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“Muse of Fire” DVD review

October 7, 2015

Dan Poole and Giles Terera had two things in common; acting ambitions, and a loathing of Shakespeare born in school.

Lacking cash, a reliable car and any real contacts in the theatrical world, they decided to make a film about that loathing. 25,000 miles and over 2 years later, “Muse of Fire” is the result.

Starting with a “vox pops” outside a West End theatre, in which most contributors could quote something by the Bard but little more, the duo decided to contact as many well known exponents of the Shakespearian stage as possible in order to demystify and return to the public the greatest ever playwright.

Interviews with – among others – Ian McKellen, Judi Dench, James Earl Jones, Mark Rylance, Tom Hiddleston, Jude Law, Zoe Wanamaker, Ewan McGregor, Ralph Fiennes, Ben Kingsley, Derek Jacobi and, finally their idol Baz Luhrman follow.

The journey to meet them all goes from London to Los Angeles, via productions of plays staged in Denmark, Madrid and a tiny theatre in the Eastern USA, that they just happened to notice in passing.

Most of all, the journey happens to the two young men. Their rather frantic “mugging for the camera” tone at the outset become far more mature as the pair grow along with their project. The slightly outdated, well, downright cheap cartoon graphics depicting their journey become less a rebellion, more proof of just how tight the budget is – the scenes of Poole tiling a bathroom for a living underlining the fact.

After all that effort, what is achieved? Steven Berkoff is the answer. His transformation into “The Godfather” as he recites Shakespearian text is simple proof that it is all about how the word is spoken, and that “the rest is silence.” A compelling presentation, with the language given a meaning and context is all that is really required. Sure, knowing iambic pentameter helps (you’ll be an expert after watching this), but entertaining clarity is all.

The companion disc to the feature is a further hour of drama classes, “Shakespeare In Practice” where a troupe of mostly young actors are coached by such experts as Peter Gill and Bonnie Greer. There’s several exciting moments, including Sandy Foster and Tony Hasnath as Romeo and Juliet (a clip of which appears also in the main film) and the deep joy when an Orphelia and Hamlet know they have “got the scene right” under the direction of Henry Goodman.

This pair of films should be of interest to anyone hoping to learn just why they should love a 400 year old writer. It may not be the most polished of documentaries, but the list of interviewees is impressive, and collectively Dan and Giles have ended up with an important documentation of opinions from some of the late 20th and early 21st century’s greatest actors and directors. An historic achievement in itself, and one arguably of importance to posterity in its own right. Rather like the plays themselves, in fact.

Buy it now at Amazon.

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