Garebian on Shakespeare: Colours to the Chameleon

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Colours to the Chameleon: Canadian Actors on Shakespeare by Keith Garebian (Guernica 2019)

  

It should be apparent by now that Keith Garebian is one of our foremost authorities on theatre. But not just an authority—he is someone who passionately loves theatre. This book then comes as a great gift to one of the most intangible of the arts: acting. Ripe with insights that say this is how it’s done from some of the country’s finest actors, it’s almost a crash course in acting Shakespeare.

     Garebian knows Canada is often looked on as a poor cousin when compared to the celebrated riches of, say, England or the US. But not poor in talent, as he points out again and again. A long-time fan of actor William Hutt, whom he has compared favourably to Laurence Olivier, Garebian makes clear with scathing acerbity that it is Canada’s paucity of love for our own, from both critics and audiences, that is most often lacking.

     His fierce defense of Canadian Shakespeare performance is in equal parts refreshing and galvanizing, as he takes us on an exploratory journey into the hearts and thinking processes of eleven actors who rank as “great” in this country. Using his own insatiable curiosity as a starting point, Garebian intimately dissects both the personalities and intuition of such renowned actors as Nancy Palk, an acclaimed Lady Macbeth among others, who discusses getting inside a role and “being able to let go” while trying to resist the urge to direct herself when she does not feel a kinship with her director.

     Similarly with Juan Chioran, a “singing actor” who deftly discusses vocal range in technical terms, delineating the three registers that produce the voice while addressing the question of musicality in Shakespeare’s texts. And so too with Lucy Peacock, whose way of handling Shakespeare’s lines is second to none, and entirely unforgettable once you’ve heard it. With Garebian guiding, she discusses candidly her almost preternatural ability to make Shakespeare’s heightened language sound natural.

     Garebian also gives chase to such hot topics as women’s roles in Shakespeare and the handling of a character’s misogyny by male actors, as well as the relative lack of female directors compared with their male counterparts. For that reason and others, this book loudly proclaims Shakespeare’s continuing relevance some four hundred years after his death.

     Garebian makes clear why the bard is not an artifact, but a vital part of theatre today. However we may dress his plays in modern garb or incorporate technological innovations in the sets, Garebian reminds us, it is Shakespeare’s texts that cannot be overestimated. Equally, any “politicizing” that attempts to reduce or relegate him to various outlooks or ethnicities denies what he is about: universality.

     The book’s many insights into the characters and plays will be at once startling and revelatory to anyone who is a lover of drama, of poetry, or even a student of human nature when it comes to both what is spoken and what is left unspoken. Whether you are an actor, director, reader, theatre-goer or other, this book will reignite your passion for the bard, if indeed you ever lost it.

The Karla Trilogy by John le Carré

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The first of the “Karla” trilogy, this book is also the weakest. le Carré continually breaks the novelist’s golden rule: show--don’t tell. Nevertheless, he delivers a powerful story while keeping a critical eye on societal and political mores as his hero, George Smiley of the British Secret Intelligence Service, uncovers a mole in SIS’s upper echelons being run by Smiley’s Russian nemesis, codenamed Karla. Based on real-life events, in particular the defection to Russia by senior SIS officer Kim Philby, it provides le Carré fuel for his favourite themes: the erosion of the UK’s political influence in international politics and the ascension of the US and USSR in a post-Cold War era.

The second of the “Karla” trilogy, this book further explores the post-Cold War world, this time fol

  

The second of the “Karla” trilogy, this book further explores the post-Cold War world, this time following SIS agent George Smiley’s investigation into Russian corruption in Asia as the American war in Vietnam is coming to an end. Vastly over-written, it lurches awkwardly from behind-the-scenes footwork by Smiley and his crew in England to their agent on the ground in Asia, Jerry Westerby, a sometime journalist. Nevertheless, there is the feel of something momentous here. On the whole, the Westerby sections are the least interesting, taking on the showy tones of an international spy thriller with conversations that go on far too long, whereas the Smiley chapters are the best, focusing on the more introspective subtleties of Smiley and his gang as they follow a trail Smiley hopes will ultimately lead him to Karla, the Russian Sauron.

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The third and final instalment of the “Karla” trilogy, this is also the most satisfying. Here, le Carré comes fully to terms with his material and his storyline as SIS’s George Smiley, back from retirement, hunts down the elusive Karla, codename for a Russian spymaster. le Carré treats his readers to a final reflection on the many people Smiley has encountered over the course of his career and personal life as Smiley finally manages to get the better of Karla, the great nemesis who has dogged him for decades. Despite a weakness in the final chapters where le Carré resorts once again to telling his story instead of showing it, the book is ultimately a masterful summation of the series.