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Today's Special

Branagh on Branagh
From British Flyer (British Airways) magazine

Kenneth Branagh, who won the Gielgud Award of the Shakespeare Guild of America just prior to launching his musical film version of Love's Labour's Lost, couldn't decide his best performance in a Shakespeare play--two very different venues were tied. Downtown Chicago and in the shadow of the castle, Elsinore in Denmark.

Both occasions belong to the early 1990's when he formed his own theatre company, Renaissance Theatre, and took on the role of actor-manager (plus director). He led his company to the Blackstone Theatre in Chicago where it played his staging of A Midsummer Night's Dream and he played Peter Quince. Branagh pinpointed a morning matinee when 1,200 youngsters were bussed in from the toughest suburbs of the city.

"We got to the theatre and it was surrounded by those yellow buses. From the dressing rooms we could hear the noise from the tannoy. I went to take a peek and there were kids running around, throwing things, fighting. It was the nearest thing I have seen to an Elizabethan audience in the 20th century.

"We started the play and they brought the best out of us. If we went dull you could hear them talking to each other at the top of their voices. When we were good--which luckily we were most of that morning--you could hear a pin drop. It was absolutely electrifying.

Branagh went to Elsinore, of course, to play Hamlet in the play's actual setting. Prince Charles, as patron of Renaissance, attended the first night at the outdoor theatre beside the castle. "To be in that place with that play was an incredible experience. When I got to the speech in Act IV of 'When all occasions do inform against you...' the production had a light from the front that put a giant shadow of me on the castle wall. As I turned at the end I caught a glimpse of it. I will never forget that moment."

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