22 January 2013

Two plays in verse

by Matt Rubinstein at 9:58 am

Fortinbrasse CoverWhen I published the new digital edition of Solstice late last year, I got some delightful responses from people who had seen the theatre adaptation, which was staged very beautifully in the outdoor amphitheatre at the Festival Centre as part of Barrie Kosky’s 1996 Adelaide Festival. It’s likely that many more people saw the play than read the book: it was sold out most nights, and only rained out once. I’m sure the play’s success was entirely thanks to the stellar cast and the terrific musicians, led by Kate Ceberano and Barney McAll (or “KC and the Solstice Band” as they called themselves for a couple of unforgettable side gigs)—but I like to think that the script at least kept out of their way while they all did their wonderful stuff. 

Because the music was largely improvised it’s now more or less lost to history—last I heard, the State Theatre Company has at least one performance on tape but it’s tricky to get at because of rights clearances—but the text is happily mine and so I’ve made it available in its own digital edition for the introductory price of £0.79/€0.89/$0.99 in the Kindle Store (US UK CA DE FR ES IT JP BR) with other outlets, as I keep saying, to follow. Check it out if you’re nostalgic for the play, especially if you’d like to mount it again, in a professional, amateur or educational capacity!

The playscript presented a few new challenges for e-book formatting, since the old Kindles and the Kindle apps aren’t very good at fixed layout elements, and the smaller screens make it dangerous to work around these limitations with tricks like invisible tables and so on. So the script doesn’t look exactly like the script we used for the actual production, but I think it’s as clean and readable as possible. Anybody who ever wants to stage the play can e-mail me for a more tractable format. 

Anyway, while I was working out these issues I thought I’d try them on another of my plays in verse. This is Fortinbrasse, the tragedy of the Prince of Norway, who is referred to rather obliquely but recurrently in Hamlet. Instead of sonnets and iambs, this one is written in fornyrðislag (“old-story metre” or “metre of ancient utterance”), the old Norse alliterative verse form used in the Eddas and later in Beowulf. Its language and symbolism take advantage of the rich pantheon of Norse mythology and the traditions of kenning (“whale-road” for ocean, “sword-water” for blood); its plot fills in the arc sketched by the Second Quarto Hamlet  (which has the most extensive treatment of events in Norway, and hence my spelling) with additional details from Shakespeare’s sources and their sources (François de Belleforest’s Hamblet, Saxo Grammaticus’s Amleth, you name it) and my own embellishments to tell the tragic tale of Hamlet’s mirror and foil. 

Fortinbrasse hasn’t been performed yet: it’s got quite a large cast, it’s in alliterative verse, and it’s possible that not everybody is as big a Hamlet tragic as I am. But I think it would be great to read or even stage in conjunction with Hamlet. Check it out if you’re a fan of fornyrðislag, or if you’ve ever wondered why Fortinbras(se) is so bummed when he arrives at Elsinore and Horatio hands him the keys, or indeed what he’s doing marching across Denmark to get to Poland when it’s not really on the way. Fortinbrasse is available from the Kindle Store (US UK CA DE FR ES IT JP BR) for the same low introductory price as Solstice

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