"For the news you want to read (but no one else will print)"


Composite, Artwork of Donwood and Basquiat.

Opening of the Radiohead 2018 North American tour in Chicago, 6 July 2018. See you there.


Timon of Athens, directed by Rob Melrose, at the Cutting Ball Theatre. Previews begin 30 March.
Update: The performance run has been extended through 6 May 2018.

As Timon, "Brennan Pickman-Thoon’s portrayal is stellar, at one point depicting a business-like but blithe adherence to the social contract with ramrod assurance and later, with reptilian writhing, revealing contempt and rage for the values and people who surround him." -- For All Events, Victor Cordell

"From the elegant suited philanthropist of the first act to the degraded, madman of the later scenes, Brennan Pickman-Thoon inhabits his character with a dedication that elevates his performance to lofty heights. It’s both a deeply introspective and athletic role and Brennan breathes life into this seldom seen character. Like Hamlet, Timon has the traits of a tortured soul and bares them to us with a vulnerability and rawness that is electrifying to behold. I had the opportunity to see Stephen Spinella’s two-time Tony-winning performance in Tony Kushner’s very Shakespearean-esque Angels in America. With Timon of Athens, Brennan Pickman-Thoon has his very own Prior Walter."
-- For All Events, Steve Murray

“The moon's an arrant thief, and her pale fire she snatches from the sun.” -- Timon of Athens



"I hope you can let this go." ---- February 14, 2017, U.S. President Elect to FBI Director James Comey.

"The weapons
that were once outside
sharpening themselves on war
are now indoors . . . . " --- Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood, self-portrait

"Back in 1984, the main premise seemed -- even to me-- fairly outrageous. Would I be able to persuade readers that the United States
had suffered a coup that had transformed an erstwhile liberal democracy into a literal-minded theocratic dictatorship?"

----- Margaret Atwood, March 19, 2017, in the New York Times. Atwood has authored over 20 works of fiction, including "The Handmaid's Tale", written in 1984.

"A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" by George North
A Newly Uncovered Manuscript Source for Shakespeare's Plays
Dennis McCarthy, June Schlueter
Early Modern History, Renaissance Literature

A new source for Shakespeare's plays, only recently uncovered, is investigated here with a full edition and facsimile of the text. "A Brief Discourse of Rebellion and Rebels" is an unpublished manuscriptwhich appears to have been a source for Shakespeare's plays. George North wrote the treatise in 1576 while at Kirtling Hall, the North family estate in Cambridgeshire. His manuscript, newly uncovered by the authors at the British Library, has many implications for our understanding of Shakespeare's plays. for example, not only does it bring clarity to the Fool's mysterious reference to Merlin in King Lear, but also upsets the prevailing opinion that Shakespeare invented the final hours of Jack Cade in 2 Henry VI. Linguistic and thematic correspondences between the North manuscript and Shakespeare's plays make it clear that the playwright borrowed from this document in other plays as well, including Richard III, 3 Henry VI, Henry V, King John, Macbeth, and Coriolanus. The opening chapters of the book investigate such connections; the volume also contains both a transcript and a facsimile of "A Brief Discourse", making this previously unknown document readily available.

National Theatre Live: Julius Caesar - 22 March 2018

Nicholas Hytner’s “Julius Caesar” at the Bridge Theatre doesn’t break though boundaries so much as move them – actually and repeatedly, via “security”- which is clever and perhaps precisely the point. There are no floor level seats at this rock concert staging; instead, the whipped up crowd is herded around a changing landscape, extras merely and yet importantly, giving mass and witless witness to the populist puppeteers on the promenades, as if they performed at the Superbowl halftime of politics. You don’t need to know or even hear the lyrics of the White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”, just doff the red baseball cap, pump your fist, and thrum along in the scrum. This production traffics in the navigation of the political stage as rock concert, and in action and sound spotlights the manipulations of populist speakers, who use the rabble, a rabble eager to be frenzied. Are we shocked? No, the audience above the ground floor can see the herding and baiting for what it is, see the actor plants and security, and understand that it is a scripted stage show, loud, raucous, stripped of every particle of reason so highly prized by Ben Whishaw’s so quantum mechanically wrong Brutus, to his, and probably our collective, downfall. (His Brutus will never be a successful conspirator; his in-basket is too neat.)

A stunning "Catelyn Stark" Cassius

But that’s entertainment folks. Part rally, part thriller, this immersive production (Bunnie Christie, design) with a stand-out cast (add David Morrissey, Michelle Fairley, David Calder, Adjoa Andoh) proves – as if such proof were needed – that Shakespeare sees roughly, kindly, and sadly into the hearts of men and women. Unlike these poor players, he does not shunt us about, gives us food for thought, and a chance to step back from the hype, even as we are threatened with being consumed by it. “Do this!”: Shakespeare’s loudspeaker speaks truth to power.

Westie the Wokest Dog at the San Francisco Women's March

On 20 January 2017, a U.S. Presidential inauguration took place.
One year later, the Federal government shut down and people marched all over America (and the world)
in support of Equality, Reproductive Rights, Social, Economic and Climate Justice.

What's Up: Science - Protecting Our Oceans

More than 70% of the oxygen in the atmosphere is produced by phytoplankton, kelp, and algal plankton.
And, amazingly, that same process actually cleans the air. Oceans of thanks, oceans.

Department of the Interior to Open Offshore Waters to Oil and Gas Leasing and Drilling

On 4 January 2017, the current administration announced it would allow new offshore oil and gas drilling in nearly all United States coastal waters, giving energy companies access to leases off California for the first time in decades and opening more than a billion acres in the Arctic and along the Eastern Seaboard.

The proposal lifts a ban on such drilling imposed by President Barack Obama near the end of his term and would deal a serious blow to his environmental legacy. It would also signal that the current administration is not done unraveling environmental restrictions.

The Interior Department would open 25 of 26 regions of the outer continental shelf, leaving only the North Aleutian Basin — which President George Bush protected in an executive order — exempted from drilling.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Interior officials said they intended to hold 47 lease sales between 2019 and 2024, including 19 off the coast of Alaska and 12 in the Gulf of Mexico. Seven areas offered for new drilling would be in Pacific waters off California, where drilling has been off limits since a 1969 oil spill near Santa Barbara.

The White House signed an executive order in April requiring the Interior Department to reconsider President Obama’s protection of the continental shelf. [We flagged this back in April.—Ed.]

Last month Congress opened the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, or ANWR, to oil and gas drilling as part of the tax overhaul. And last week the Interior Department rescinded an Obama-era rule that would have added regulations for hydraulic fracturing, or fracking, on federal and tribal lands. It also repealed offshore drilling safety regulations that were put in place after the Deepwater Horizon spill.

Exxon Valdez Oil Tanker Spill in Alaska

Deepwater Horizon Oil Rig Spill

A 2017 Thank-You From Sir Kenneth Branagh

Dear Friends,

Having spent a significant amount of time this year at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art, I can continue to testify to what your exceptional generosity makes possible.

I felt very proud on your behalf to hear from those whose life and work has been helped significantly by what you have given. RADA’s record on inclusion, and diversity, and engagement reveals a practical truth that your money helps enable. If people from whatever background or nation have the exceptional talent and crucially, the commitment to come here, then they will not be denied by circumstance. The incredible work being produced is the rich reward.

People in that building are proud to say thank you to the Ken Friends, and they do – I make sure of it!

It’s another phenomenal sum you have raised this year, that would out-swell the proudest hopes my parents could ever have imagined, had they even dreamed of being remembered in this way. Thank you.

This has been an incredible year of work for me, with Dunkirk, on screen, Hamlet on stage, and Murder On The Orient Express steaming into a cinematic station to round the year off. I’ve been privileged to work with the greatest of colleagues – young, and well, mature, and have learnt much from both ends of that spectrum.

None of us however could have done any of it without people like yourselves who continue to support our work, wherever it appears. I cannot express adequately how grateful I am for this. The Ken Friends have been at the forefront of that support for decades.

May I thank you sincerely for another wonderful birthday present – I have already affixed my most elegant luggage labels to my cases. Your kindness is never more striking than in the tough world we currently occupy. I hope your part of it brings you and yours great health and happiness in the New Year, and onwards.

I wish you a happy holiday, and as always count myself proud, honoured and lucky to call you, my friends.

Ken Branagh

Happy Birthday to Sir Kenneth Branagh. Born 10 December.

Each year the Ken Friends celebrate this December birthday by raising funds in support of charitable organizations connected with Kenneth Branagh. For the last few years of our twenty-year giving span, our contributions have helped new and aspiring thespians meet basic needs in order to pursue their craft and dreams at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Art. Donations to the William and Frances Branagh Memorial Bursary at RADA allow us to "give back" a little, when a little can mean a lot.

Kenneth Branagh is the President of RADA.

Read more about the birthday projects at the Kenneth Branagh Compendium.

Update: Tracking EPA employees: The "consulting firm" of Definers Public Affairs has pulled out of a federal contract to provide media monitoring services to the Environmental Protection Agency after it was disclosed that a lawyer among its top executives had been investigating agency employees critical of the Trump administration.

The contract came under scrutiny because of the company’s links to America Rising, a Virginia-based corporation and Republican political operation with several offshoots that have investigated E.P.A. officials. One lawyer on the company’s staff, Allan Blutstein, sent a series of Freedom of Information Act requests to the E.P.A. asking for email correspondence by employees who had been publicly critical of the Trump administration’s management of the agency.

America Rising and its affiliates also separately deployed “trackers” to videotape climate change activists and produced news releases and videos favorable to Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the E.P.A.

Definers Public Affairs, a corporate entity, shares multiple top executives with America Rising, including Mr. Joe Pounder, President of the exiting firm.

Sourced from the NY Times

Excerpt from the NY Times:

Tracking E.P.A. Employees

The Environmental Protection Agency has hired a new contractor to do "media monitoring" for the agency. But before the contract was awarded, staff members who work for the contractor had been conducting surveillance-type work on E.P.A. employees critical of Scott Pruitt, the E.P.A. administrator, and the [current] President..

1984: "Every citizen, or at least every citizen important enough to be worth watching, could be kept for twenty-four hours a day under the eyes of the police and in the sound of official propaganda, with all other channels of communication closed. The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time . . . ."

Front Office Duo of the Year
Megan Twohey and Jodi Kantor

Thank-you for your work.

From the Front Office: The "Tax Bill" - It's a Trap

*The American public does not even know what changes have been made to the bill. We have not been presented with an explanation or analysis of its various components, and the nature and scope of the impacts its provisions will make on the lives of Americans. Americans who live here -- that's right, those folks who are supposed to be on the receiving end of America's "greatness" again. Here, in the United States of America, where the ultimate last word is supposed to come from the people, to whom these "legislators" are supposed to answer.

Where is the accountability of our representatives? Are we some other country in which a dictator tells a straw parliament how to vote, and when? Can they really be bullied into voting for an unprecedented upheaval and surreptitious groping of so many laws, including health care, oil drilling (Alaskan drilling was the price of that yes vote) and legal rights for fertilized eggs? In a bill which not only is abhorrent on its face, but is a ticking time bomb with undisclosed conditions and deferred consequences? Where are we living?

Excerpt from The New York Times:

Tucked away in the Republican tax plan are several provisions that have little to do with overhauling the tax code and more to do with ensuring conservative lawmakers vote for the legislation.

The 400-plus-page bill [It's now 500+ pages, after all the gimme's slipped into the bill to acquire the votes of specific legislators necessary to secure passage -- Ed.] released Thursday includes changes* that would codify the rights of “unborn children,” allow tax-exempt religious organizations to engage in political activities and impose hurdles for immigrants seeking to claim refundable tax credits.

The language is contained in an innocuous provision related to education savings vehicles — so-called 529 plans, which are state-sponsored, tax-free investment funds that allow families to put aside money for a child’s college education. The provision explicitly allows expectant parents to designate a “child in utero” as a beneficiary of a 529 plan.

Parents have long been able to set up 529 accounts for an unborn child, but the provision accomplishes what anti-abortion activists have long sought: It enshrines into federal law the recognition of the unborn.

“An unborn child means a child in utero,” the provision states. “A child in utero means a member of the species Homo sapiens, at any stage of development, who is carried in the womb.”

[And in this way, with cunning inroads against a woman’s right to choose, after this administration stacks the courts with judges from religious right, women will be unable to decide when and whether to have a child, and will be charged with crimes when they choose not to. Maidez, indeed. Margaret Atwood warned us.---Ed. ]

The bill also contains a sought-after change by the religious right: repeal of the Johnson Amendment, which prohibits tax-exempt organizations like churches from engaging in political activity.

[The separation of church and state – watch the distance evaporate into thin air. –Ed.]

Beware the hate-monger. Beware the fear-monger. Beware the bully who demands that you do what he says, or else. Beware the wheedler who shrugs off accountability as he whines for favors and brags of influence. Beware the deal too good to be true. Beware its dealer. Beware the abuser-in-chief.

From the Front Office

Into Thin Air: The Disappearance of Transparency

Not so long ago, there was a growing effort in politics, government, and to a lesser degree, commerce, to be transparent. Now it almost seems like the term itself needs to be defined, it's so out of use. Transparency.

No longer do we get a clear picture of the issues, or the products, or the competing interests, or full disclosures, so people can really sort out what's what. It starts at the top; an elected official who refuses to disclose his tax returns, his business holdings and shell/shadow ventures. Yet in one way he is very transparent: he is a liar. The intent is to mislead, confuse, scramble, stupefy, and deceive. Not only during the election campaign, but in every respect, in every department, in everything he touches, gropes or grasps at.

The model set forth has been adopted by many of the Republican Congressional officials who are elected to represent us, the American people. In order to be re-elected, receiving support from their political party, they are spreading the same poison.

Health insurance coverage for all Americans has been a wonderful and necessary and long overdue accomplishment. To pacify a vengeful--that's right, vengeful--President, Senate leaders are attempting to nullify the ACA sign up requirement in order to save the money spent on health care for the public -- for individual people, flesh and blood--and INSTEAD CUT TAXES FOR THE WEALTHIEST AND CORPORATIONS. They failed to bust up the ACA in every other attempt. So they relabel and repackage and try to sneak it past--as if we are unable to see that such deceit not only has no place in a tax reform bill, but threatens to be the final insult in an already egregiously lopsided tax revision for the richest.

Corporations have spent lobbying dollars to sway their votes. Let your elected officials know that you do not support this "tax reform bill"now, and you will not be supporting them come election time if they effectively dismantle this health program.

We are all in this together. The sooner we realize this, the less we will have to reconstruct after the metaphorical, and real, hurricanes, floods and fires.

“A heavy black volume, amateurishly bound, with no name or title on the cover. The print also looked slightly irregular. The pages were worn at the edges, and fell apart, easily, as though the book had passed through many hands.

Winston began reading:

Chapter I
Ignorance is Strength

. . . . By comparison with that existing today, all the tyrannies of the past were half-hearted and inefficient. . . . Part of the reason for this was that in the past no government had the power to keep its citizens under constant surveillance. The invention of print, however, made it easier to manipulate public opinion, and the film and the radio carried the process further. With the development of television, and the technical advance which made it possible to receive and transmit simultaneously on the same instrument, private life came to an end. Every citizen, or at least every citizen important enough to be worth watching, could be kept for twenty-four hours a day under the eyes of the police and in the sound of official propaganda, with all other channels of communication closed. The possibility of enforcing not only complete obedience to the will of the State, but complete uniformity of opinion on all subjects, now existed for the first time . . . .

. . . .This peculiar linking-together of opposites — knowledge with ignorance, cynicism with fanaticism — is one of the chief distinguishing marks of Oceanic society. The official ideology abounds with contradictions even when there is no practical reason for them. . . .

Winston became aware of silence, as one becomes aware of a new sound. . . .

Nineteen Eighty-Four
by George Orwell
published in 1949

"No President should fear public scrutiny of his program. For from that scrutiny comes understanding; and from that understanding comes support or opposition. And both are necessary. I am not asking your newspapers to support the Administration, but I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people. For I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed.

I not only could not stifle controversy among your readers--I welcome it. This Administration intends to be candid about its errors; for as a wise man once said: "An error does not become a mistake until you refuse to correct it." We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors; and we expect you to point them out when we miss them.

Without debate, without criticism, no Administration and no country can succeed--and no republic can survive." President John F. Kennedy, New York City, April 27, 1961


COP23 convened in Bonn, Germany from 6-17 November 2017.

At COP21 in Paris in 2015, the parties negotiated what is known as the Paris Agreement, which established specific actions and targets for reducing greenhouse gases emissions, mitigating and adapting to the effects of climate change, and financing mitigation and adaptation efforts in developing countries. The agreement took effect nearly a year later. Signatory countries agreed to work to limit global temperature rise to below 2 degrees Celsius and to make strong efforts to keep the rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius. The Paris Agreement is especially significant because it is a legally binding agreement.

On September 3, 2016, the US formally joined the historic Paris agreement, adding its legally binding detailed written instrument . The sitting President of the United States announced on June 1, 2017, that the US will back out of its support, declaring without advice or consent that, "the United States will withdraw from the Paris climate accord" and that it is "time to exit." Despite his declamation, many public service and government entities from the US will attend COP23 and participate in its committed efforts to move forward.

As of October 2017, Nicaragua joined the Paris climate accords.

Besides the peremptorily announced US withdrawal, only Syria remains outside the agreement.

Update: On November 7, 2017, Syria joined the Paris Climate accords and intends to lay out its plan of climate action. Which leaves the US White House truly isolated in its breach of the accords, and its refusal to explain under what conditions "more favorable to the US" might actually mean. Notwithstanding the (increasingly ludicrous) White House statement, responsible leaders and policy makers across the American political, economic and social landscape continue to conscientiously address the issues and shape our future.

Increase Your Climate Ambition Mates!

Climate Science Special Report 2017 released by coordinated U.S. government agencies concludes that human activities, "especially emissions of greenhouse gases" are the dominant cause of the observed warming since the mid-20th century.

Increase Your Ambition

31 October 2017: UN Environment (UNEP) released its ‘Emissions Gap Report 2017,’ which argues that governments and non-state actors must increase their ambition to ensure the goals of the Paris Agreement on climate change can be met. In addition, the World Meteorological Organization (WMO) published its annual Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Bulletin, which states that atmospheric CO2 concentrations surged to their highest level in 800,000 years. The two reports were released in advance of the UN Climate Change Conference taking place from 6-17 November in Bonn, Germany.

‘The Emissions Gap Report’ finds that national pledges will only lead to a third of the emission reductions required to be on the least-cost pathway for the goal of staying well below 2°C, noting that “the gap between the reductions needed and the national pledges made in Paris is alarmingly high.” It concludes that full implementation of current Nationally Determined Contributions (NDCs) will likely lead to a temperature increase of at least 3°C by 2100, and recommends that governments increase their ambition when revising their NDCs in 2020.

"You put sharp weapons in a madman's hands." - Henry VI, part 2 | Act 3, Scene 1

From the Front Office: A narcissist craves attention, and a narcissist with power demands it.

What if we set aside our grousing, commiserating, praying, brick-throwing, name-calling, joking, escalating, knee-jerking, blaming, crying, hand-wringing, shoulder-shrugging, polarizing, stereotyping, grandstanding, belittling, demonizing and escaping.

What if, instead, we choose to educate ourselves about any of the things that really matter. What's happening with those issues right now? What are the real consequences? Are they more important than posting something [witty/endearing/activist/repetitive/manipulative/funny/sad/antagonistic/supportive] on social media? What do all those posts add up to?

Can scientists, and real policy makers, and lawyers, and social activists, and educated minds resolve to take hands and move with balance and determination in the courts, in the science journals, in town halls and before Congress to preserve, protect and defend the gains we have made, the progress we have suffered for, the environment which needs us more than ever?

What's Up: Science - Never Bet Against Einstein

Gravitational waves, baby.

On October 3, 2017, Kip Thorne and Barry Barish, of the California Institute of Technology, and Rainer Weiss, a professor at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, were awarded the 2017 Nobel Prize in Physics for research on gravitational waves. The Nobel winners are architects and leaders of LIGO, the Laser Interferometer Gravitational-wave Observatory, the instrument that detected the gravitational waves, and of a sister organization, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration. Weiss and Thorne are two of the founders of the LIGO project. Barish was the Principal Investigator of LIGO from 1994 to 2005, during the period of its construction and initial operation.

Time and space are warped because of gravity. (That's how a GPS can function knowing where you are relative to the GPS satellite.) When massively dense but "invisible" objects like black holes move or collide their mass and energy warp both time and space--a lot. The warp caused by these huge masses orbiting each other causes them to move closer together, orbiting faster and faster, and eventually merge. Space and time stretch and expand, tear, and collapse. Gravitational waves result--forming now measurable ripples in space and time. (I know, right?) The distorted space is what we can now see when the laser beam measurements become unbalanced.

Gravitational waves were first detected by a pair of L-shaped antennas, in Hanford, Wash. and Livingston, La., which monitor the squeezing and stretching of space between a pair of delicately calibrated isolated mirrors as a gravitational wave goes by. An announcement in February 2016 confirmed the existence of gravitational waves first predicted by Albert Einstein a century ago, and verified the nature of black holes. Scientists were able to record the space time reverberation, and even transform it into an audible "chirp."

In August 2017, a third antenna was added, allowing scientists to triangulate position. On August 14, 2017, one black hole with about 31 times the mass of the Sun and another with 25 solar masses, combined to make a hole of 53 solar masses. The remaining three solar masses were converted into gravitational waves that radiated more energy than all the stars in the known universe. It was the fourth time, officially, in the last two years that astronomers have detected such ripples from the cataclysmic mergers of black holes – objects so dense that space and time are wrapped around them like a glove so that not even light can escape.

Sourced and distilled from the New York Times, the LIGO Scientific Collaboration and BBC news.

From the New York Times:

"An internal Interior Department memo has proposed lifting restrictions on exploratory seismic studies in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, a possible first step toward opening the pristine wilderness area to oil and gas drilling.

The document proposes ending a restriction that had limited exploratory drilling to the period from Oct. 1, 1984, to May 31, 1986. It also directs the agency to provide an environmental assessment and a proposed rule allowing for new exploration plans. "

"Most human quarrels arise from the fact that both wise men and dunces exist who are so constituted as to be incapable of seeing more than one side of any fact or idea, while each asserts that the side he sees is the only true and right one." -- Honore De Balzac, Paris August-September 1846

"Art is also a lie; an attempt to make suffering bearable." -- François Ozon

“We’re all in this together. It’s kind of like sky divers, holding hands before you hit the ground.” – Roz Chast , April 26, 2017, San Francisco.

Music is not a contest, but it's nice to see Radiohead's
2016 "A Moon Shaped Pool" get the love it deserves.

Radiohead's incredible 2016/2017 tour is unquestionably a
highlight of the past few years, not just this year.

What's Up Art: More Stanley Donwood

Radiohead: The King of Limbs

What's Up Music:

Radiohead - The Zen Album
The King of Limbs: Explore, Expand, Embrace

By Renie Pickman-Thoon

An excerpt from an interview with Kenneth Branagh by the Telegraph follows, where the actor/director discusses what makes him go.

'Not that I feel I need to justify it or explain it, but I know it wasn’t about, “Hey, look at me”,’ Branagh says evenly of his early working life. 'It was about absolute enjoyment of what I was doing. I did not expect to be allowed to be an actor, to be allowed to eventually direct things. 'So really, frankly, for many, many years after that, there’s still a kind of "pinch me I can’t believe this is happening” thrill to it. There was an ebullience; there was an effusion. A sheer enjoyment of doing it. Maybe the work ethic was to do with justifying that one was worthy of that.’

But often, he adds, it was about fairness. If he ran his own theatre company, he could pay everyone the same money. If he made his own films and turned a profit, he could split it equally. 'Not rocket science,’ he notes, 'but things I believed in.’ He talks about In the Bleak Midwinter, his 1995 comedy, shot in black and white, about a small theatre company's attempt to put on Hamlet at Christmas. 'One of the greatest pleasures I had was when we had a screening on a Sunday morning in the West End. And most of the crew and cast came, including Joan Collins. I’d paid for the film myself with the money I made from Frankenstein, and we sold it at a profit. The books were completely open. And as they left the cinema that morning, we had all the envelopes laid out and we gave everybody a cheque – including Joan Collins, who nearly fell over. She said, “I’ve been in the business for a quite a long time, and this has never happened.” She opened it and she said, 'F***ing hell!” Because it was not inconsiderable.’

By now we have moved back to the Yellow Bird HQ and, sitting in the dining area, Branagh is drinking tea. 'I remember telling my dad about that and he thought that was bloody good. Because he used to tell me about Friday nights, Crown Pub, in Belfast, opposite the Europa [Hotel], in one of those booths – they’d finish work at three or four o’clock and he would be doling out the cash. It reminded me of that. So I was proud of that. I thought that was fair and that was sharing it out. And because I’d paid for that, I was able to protect the film. It didn’t get snaffled up by all the ways and many means you can be shafted in our business. 'And there you go,’ he concludes. 'It doesn’t make me Saint Ken. But [the motives] can be as straight as that.’

Straightness, fairness and camaraderie: these are things that matter to Branagh. Also in the context of In the Bleak Midwinter he mentions the writer and director Richard Curtis: he was 'a big fan of my little comedy. When he need not have been, Richard was somebody who encouraged and was simply kind and enthusiastic. And smart and funny. That's one of those things in this business that you remember; Thus, when I ask Branagh why exactly he had undertaken a comic cameo last year in Curtis’s slight The Boat That Rocked, he replies that he was returning the favour. 'If Richard Curtis had asked me to walk off a plank into the ocean I’d have done so.’

'Ken genuinely loves the idea of everyone together in a team,’ Curtis says. 'That egalitarian spirit, I think, is why he wanted to get on so much when he was young – just for the crack of it. He rang me up right before we began shooting The Boat That Rocked, and he said ;As a director, I know how scary the first day is – you’ve to get to know your costume person and your cameraman. So I want you to ignore me completely.” He was on set for four days and he wasn’t remotely precious or grand, just completely humble. And like a lot of English classical actors, such as Michael Gambon, Ian McKellen and Simon Russell Beale, he is very good at comedy.’

For Branagh, support and encouragement must go both ways. Daniel Radcliffe credits Branagh with pushing him in the direction of Equus: Branagh had the original idea for Radcliffe to star in the much-praised 2007 West End revival of Peter Shaffer’s play. 'Ken was great because he was always looking out for possibilities of stuff we could be doing together,’ Radcliffe recalls, adding that he originally suggested they do Rattigan’s The Browning Version. Branagh oversaw early workshops for Equus. Meanwhile, Branagh has cast his Wallander co-star, Tom Hiddleston, in his next directorial project, Thor, starring Natalie Portman and Anthony Hopkins. It’s another intriguing left turn in a consistently adventurous career, but at this early stage of production (filming begins in Los Angeles in the next few weeks) Branagh is contractually prevented from speaking about what, one imagines, will be a CGI-heavy Hollywood blockbuster comic-book adaptation. But he has been using his time in Sweden to research Viking mythology and visit Norway on fact-finding trips. So serious is he about the project that, last year, he handed over to Michael Grandage his planned directing of Jude Law in Hamlet – a huge theatrical undertaking that he had been preparing a year.

'I tried for a long time to see if I could do both [Hamlet and Thor," he says, 'and I couldn’t. And then I said to Michael and Jude, “What do you think?” You know, it was a difficult moment. You don’t want to let anybody down. But honesty’s the best policy.’ For Branagh the prospect of making a Marvel superhero movie 'is just such an extra-ordinary adventure to go on. It doesn't happen every two minutes. And Michael and Jude said, “On your way, and enjoy it . . . ’’’

Back outside Ystad’s swimming-pool, Wallander is slumping down the road. On the director’s instruction Branagh does it three, four, five times. On each occasion, he stops beneath a tree. On one take he exhales heavily. Another, he stares up at the branches, eyes closed. Another, he seems almost catatonically numb.

These are the closing scenes of The Man Who Smiled. 'It’s Wallander walking away from his job, basically,’ Branagh explained. 'He’s constantly been in turmoil about whether he wants to continue to be a policeman. And he appears to have decided not to be.’ Over the three new adaptations 'he goes on an interesting journey, which is to really deeply question why he’s a policeman and the price he pays, the personal price, in relation to death . . . ’

For Branagh, too, the work is important, but not if it means losing yourself. 'I’d say that’s from my parents. It’s a basic Irish working-class thing.

I was working with a huge star not long before my father died, and he said, [in a broad Ulster accent], “You wanna watch him, I think he's forgot himself . . . ”

'Now,’ Branagh says with a smile, 'that’s a cardinal sin for them. It’s about simply remembering yourself and remembering what you’re doing and to be in the here and now. And know who your friends are, and know the value of money – in as much as it isn’t going to make you happy. Your health is really the greatest blessing you can ever have, and after that friends and family. 'And all of those things contain complexities and sophistications and plenty of stuff to keep your life interesting. But if it’s about the spurious pursuit of the glittering prizes, you’ll find that they won’t give you a hug late at night.’

Here, and more here, on the music page.

What's Up Art: More Stanley Donwood

Stanley Donwood in the Panic Office: The Art of the Bear at the Carriageworks in Sydney


From a 1996 interview with Kenneth Branagh

KB: Shakespeare always denies sleep to his tragic heroes in moments of crisis, a spectacular example being Macbeth. In Macbeth he calls it "nature's balm... the cure for hurt minds." You don't get sleep because you are anxious.

CMM: Do you still feel daunted when you start a project, or when you arrive on the set for the first day of shooting?

KB: Getting sleep is a tough thing to do. It's a constant anxiety, and I'll go through various things: I'll take some sleeping pills, I'll take some herbal pills, I'll try to have a massage, or anything that will trick me into getting the sleep that is necessary. That's a crucial thing; it's a very Shakespearean thing. Shakespeare always denies sleep to his tragic heroes in moments of crisis, a spectacular example being Macbeth. In Macbeth he calls it "nature's balm... the cure for hurt minds." You don't get sleep because you are anxious.

CMM: As an actor or as a director?

KB: In both cases. As an actor because you are aware of a greater amount of expectation, particularly from yourself, in playing a role that is so open to interpretation, which relies so heavily on the personality of the actor. Whether it's Shakespeare or anything else, your try to find, in the current state of knowledge, what you think to be the sort of appropriate state of preparation to act well.

This is a constant mystery to me, because it changes all the time. It changes as you get older, you work with different people, it's a different project, you're having a bad day, you're having a good day, it worked yesterday when you had drank a cup of coffee before the take, but then a cup of coffee makes you forget your lines... You get anxious as an actor; and as a director, you're anxious for other people.

CMM: You've done Hamlet several times on stage, for different directors, and you've done a radio version. Was there a sense here, because this is a big-budget film, or because of your age, that this Hamlet was going to be your last crack at it, that this is the version that's going to fix it?

KB: Absolutely. "Time's winged chariot" was hurrying very near. What I tried to do was to convince myself, with many years of preparation, direct and indirect, experience in playing the part, with my own relationship with the part, with all the homework in the world done, that, in a way that couldn't really happen when I did Henry V, my obligation as Hamlet was, once that camera turned, to be as real and as natural and as truthful as possible in the moment, within the style of what we were doing, and to forget about all that information, forget about what you prepared. Julie Christie used to say to me, "You do it different every time, don't you?" I said, "If you say it different to me, I'll say it different to you." It's just however it comes out.

We've got to trust the work we've done. I don't believe in trying, on film, to repeat some loved moment from the theater, recreating something, repeating things --"I was terribly effective when I did the line like that." I like to try to give it away, and just, in that moment, to have worked up to the point where you might be able to leap off into some inspirational percentage, that you and the other actors might just catch something so that your scene and the performance sings a bit in that kind of mysterious way.

CMM: Can you give me an example from the film?

KB: The closet scene was different with Julie Christie than any time I had played it before. There's one specific scene -- it's a scene I like very much -- the "recorder" scene, with Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, after the play. We were in this tight space in this little theater we created, and the camera crew and everybody was saying, "You should break this up -- this shot here, this shot there -- let's block it so that we can cover it from six or seven different angles." And I said, "No, I feel that we should do this in one." I've always wanted that scene in the theater to go like some whippet; Hamlet is in a way at his least attractive, but he's also at his wittiest, with his extraordinary aggression against these two lads. We had everybody kind of cooking at the right time, and I thought the scene was funny and vicious.

We did a number of things in the film where we shot things in one, which puts some real flame under the actors. They get kind of nervous; it creates a kind of theatrical effect. It actually helped to create conditions, as I thought, that were conducive to bringing out that sort of extra under-the-skin kind of tingle that the audience can feel, I'm sure, when it's happening right in front of you, and you don't know what's going to happen next.

CMM: Are stage actors or film actors more receptive to that kind of approach?

KB: I find my best experiences are with people who do a combination of the two. What you do have from stage actors is an ability to learn three or four pages of dialogue, and to be able to come up with it zippily, and not need to do it line by line. If you've got actors who can remember it and are really on the tips of their toes about it, and they're also good film actors, then I think you get the best of both worlds. I sometimes feel frustrated when I want to do things with the camera and with the scene, which, I believe, essentially, gives the scene to the actors, and an actor can't sustain it for over a minute or so. But, what these [film] actors do have often is, in the moments they produce, an absolute, laser-beam radio-signal connection with the truth.

CMM: What's still out there that you want to do?

KB: In the not so distant future, if I have the chance to do them, Love's Labour's Lost and Macbeth. I want to do Love's Labour's Lost as a musical. I've always liked the play. It's very funny, very melancholy, very unusual, and has this peculiar Shakespearean magic in there, it really breaks your heart at the end, and it's also silly -- very, very silly.


I find that I get an idea about the world in which it's set, the period if you like (though I try to make all our periods pretty loose), and then you just keep putting every scene and every character up against that idea to see whether it's going to limit it or work for that character. For Macbeth, it's witchcraft -- you really have to find a world in which you believe that witchcraft is in the air, that it's real. I want get a world going for the characters where the witchcraft really sends shivers down your spine, so that you know, when Macbeth knows, when he makes this pact with the devil's representatives, how very serious it is; so religion has to be very important. Then the marriage between Macbeth and Lady Macbeth -- that marriage has to be very carefully set. She says, "I have given suck," and yet they don't have children; is she older, is she younger? And it's Scotland. You get an idea, you get pictures. And these I find are "anchor pictures."

With each of those plays now, in terms of the development of a film, I've got several scenes in each (many more in Love's Labour's than in Macbeth) where I can see the film and hear it. I can see the dance routine in Love's Labour's Lost: I can see a fantastic library, a fantastic circular library, and a dance routine on skateboards (but it's not a set now; a version of skateboards), and with them going all the way around the ceiling. I can see the women on punts on a river.

So I'm currently bashing away at those two plays. I carry copies of the plays with me (I've got them in my bag), and I'll sit and study a scene for a bit, and make notes, and work up some storyboarded images.

A 2016 Message of Thanks from Sir Kenneth Branagh

Happy New Year to all Ken Friends!

In the year in which I was honoured to be invited to join RADA as its President, it was particularly touching to witness once again your astonishing generosity on my birthday.

My very very grateful thanks for this magnificent contribution . The training of RADA students, (I can say very confidently having auditioned so many for our London season), is truly exceptional, and the Ken Friends make more of that available to even more with this incredible sum. Thank you so much.

That so many of you laid out yet more of your hard earned cash to see our work at the Garrick was really something. This season could not exist without you, and I hope that on stage or screen across this next year, you will enjoy the work to come.

I wish you all great happiness and health through 2016 and beyond, and I thank you once again for honouring my parents and my alma mater with such staggering generosity.

From across the footlights at the bottom of the Charing Cross Road,
Your Friend,

Excerpt from an interview with Kenneth Branagh in the Mainichi Weekly Online
20 July 2007

Q: According to your biography, you left Belfast when you were 9 to escape the Troubles. Do you think your experience of the conflict there influences your battle scenes?

A: I think it makes me aware of how easy it is for people to hate, rather than to love. I think it's a very exciting time in Northern Ireland right now. Politically, a massive, massive shift has occurred, and ancient hatreds have been put aside. I think an awareness of conflict and the need to resolve, the need for peace was very much part of my background. And this film [The Magic Flute, directed by Branagh] certainly is about the need for peace.

Q: What is your motto in life?

A: A good question. A hard question. It sounds like a cliche, but there is a line from Hamlet, at the end, where he says, "The readiness is all." In that context, it's probably about being ready for death, but I think it's a motto for me and it's about trying to be open in life, be open to experience, be open to situations and to people. And be ready, be ready to be surprised, sometimes be ready to be disappointed, be ready to be excited and be ready for anything. But be ready for things to change. Be active and positive. I suppose another way of saying the same thing would be: 'Anything can happen, enjoy it.'"

For more background on Branagh's film version of Hamlet, try The Readiness is All -- The Filming of Hamlet

Woody Allen as the Dane? Only by way of Billy Crystal.

Kenneth Branagh in David Mamet's "Edmond". Reviews and photos of Branagh at the National Theatre.

Offsite Offerings

Need Shakespeare? Check here for outside Shakespeare links.

Need a Shax monologue? Try the Monologue Archive.

Read Shakespeare here, at the Literature Network online.

Voices and Verses in Film: What are those poems and who wrote them?

Theatre Highlights: Alan Rickman on Stage

Alan Rickman as Elyot in a true-to-life Private Lives.

Go to Page 2 of the Front Page

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Features of the Daily Telegiraffe

What's Up: BOOKS Sarah Hatchuel, "Branagh and The Bard: A Companion to the Shakespearean Films of Kenneth Branagh"

What's Up: FILM Waking Will Divinely: Shakespeare in Love

What's Up: STAGE Kenneth Branagh's Macbeth

Back Issues:

  What's Up STAGE Rufus Sewell Takes on Macbeth


*** DID YOU KNOW? ***

NEW YORK - "Hamlet" was chosen as the greatest poem of the millenium in the New York Times Magazine millenium review!

LONDON (Reuters) - William Shakespeare was picked as Britain's "Man of the Millennium" by a poll of BBC radio listeners!

ENJOY . . . Chosen as the greatest poem of the millenium, Hamlet endures.

ENJOY . . . Who is the "Greatest Fictional Character in World Literature and Legend" - - one guess.
With the Austen lover's link.

ENJOY . . . Back issues of our features, indexed by subject on the front page, and on current feature pages.

ENJOY . . . Programme notes from the NFT's Branagh Retrospective, now added off of the Hamlet page.

ENJOY . . . Gertrude and Claudius, a book by John Updike, explores the new King and Queen.

ENJOY . . . Shakespeare in Less Than 10 Minutes Review of a video of restorations of the earliest surviving silent Shakespeare films from 1899-1911. Also, can you choose your five favourite Shakespeare films? Check your picks against Kenneth Branagh's choices.

ENJOY . . . Director Michael Almereyda's film "collage" of a knit-hatted Ethan Hawke as a Gen-X slacker. Our review of his Hamlet is here.

Almereyda does Denmark as a corporate prison. From the New York Times: Two Fortinbrases and the Ghosts of Hamlets Past. The last stage Hamlet of 1999 in New York becomes a photo album of Hamlets past, including Branagh, Olivier, and Gibson. Added: The New York Post muses on performing Hamlet.

ENJOY . . . Woody Allen, C'est Moi A French interview with Kenneth Branagh about working with Woody Allen.

ENJOY . . . Kenneth Branagh and Celebrity

ENJOY . . . Behind Celebrity's Curtain: An unabashedly editorial film review from the front office.

ENJOY . . . Glimpses of genius. In praise of HAMLET: Kenneth Branagh's film version captures the soul of Hamlet.

Also find on the Hamlet Page an interview with Kenneth Branagh (now with photograph) and an account of the London benefit screening of Hamlet, at which Branagh appeared.

ENJOY . . . The New York Times review of "Discovering Hamlet" a short film which documents Branagh's early take on the stage role under the direction of Sir Derek Jacobi.

ENJOY . . . Kenneth Branagh's interview at his NFT Retrospective, as conducted by the Guardian newspaper. Complete text, and complete Questions and Answers now available.

ENJOY . . . Billy Crystal does DeNiro working on Branagh's Hamlet, and a bit of his version of the Woodman doing the Dane.

ENJOY . . . Alan Rickman in Private LIves with an inexplicable bonus of the transcription of Rickman's appearance on "Late Night with Conan O'Brien" promoting the film Galaxy Quest.

ENJOY . . . The films " Onegin" and "The End of the Affair" open with reviews, interviews, and photographs. Fiennes has been searching for Pushkin's anti-hero Eugene Oneginfor some time.


The Good Bits




What's Up: STAGE

What's Up: BOOKS

What's Up: MUSIC

What's Up: FILM

Fictional Characters

What's Up:

Today's Special

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Thank You


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