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Robert Ball

August 19th, 2020

I admire people who make things happen, who seize an idea and galvanise those around them to bring that idea to life. This is an act of optimism, a feat of will and a triumph of energy over the status quo. Robert Ball was one of these people and so to learn today of his recent death is especially sad.

In 2012 Robert founded FRED to create new theatre and stage classic theatre in fresh ways. Their first production was The Merchant Of Venice, which they staged across three spaces in our sprawling industrial venue @ A E Harris. The production zipped along with verve, humour and tight focus, it was well received and launched the company to produce a further 30 or so productions in a mere eight years – a prodigious output that included performances going into schools and care homes to reach as many people as possible.

Robert was a Shakespeare specialist but also a general theatre lover, excited to commission new writing, revive a long lost Restoration Comedy – The Dutch Lady and rock up at other people’s shows. Slipping in and out of Robert’s technical rehearsals and witnessing FRED before and after their productions, you couldn’t help but be uplifted by their shared sense of enterprise, mutual support, seriousness and good humour.

It was always a happy coincidence to bump into Robert, an intelligent, highly principled and scrupulously polite man. An enthusiast, a man who made things happen and someone who will be sadly missed.

Our sympathy goes out to all those close to him whose lives were lifted by his presence and will be deminished by his absence.

For Quality Purposes (11th August)

August 6th, 2020

We hope you’ve been enjoying our season of online work, Stan’s Internet Cafe. Coming up next is For Quality Purposes …

For Quality Purposes is set in a Dispersed Universal Call Centre where call handlers, working from home, field enquiries from customers with a vast range of queries in areas they are rarely trained for, or qualified to deal with. Our heroes are often left floundering but cheeriness is their default setting and they work hard to find solutions to the many problems they are asked to solve.

Funny, touching and thoughtful, For Quality Purposes was devised online and will be streamed on the Stan’s Cafe Theatre YouTube Channel on 11th August, at 19.30 BST (Running Time: 25 minutes)

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 35

August 4th, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be seen here.

The material for this conclusion to our series is taken from the end of Robert Burton’s introduction where be both justifies and apologises for his work.

In one of my favourite moments there is a suggestion that he find it a bit embarrassing and vulgar not to have done the whole thing in Latin. His publishers wouldn’t permit that approach and theirs was a wise choice. Elsewhere Burton has explained how he has kept the work practical by avoiding ‘fustian phrases’ and ‘hyperbolical exornations’. This book wasn’t an affectation to grace rich libraries, it was a book written to be read and to be useful. Although its dimensions meant it was expensive The Anatomy Of Melancholy sold well and was reprinted in a series of expanding editions through Burton’s life and remains in print today.

The book’s humour, generosity, peculiarity and practicality must all have contributed to its enduring appeal, as must the continuing prevalence of its subject matter. Through the series we have learnt many practical approaches to avoiding melancholy, which seem as sensible now as they did four hundred years ago and when forcing himself to boil his 1500 page effort to a single maxim our guide leaves us with a simple twined imperative, “be not solitary, be not idle”.

At the time of making this series many millions of people around the world were forced to separate themselves from others and cease their regular activities. It has been a time of melancholy, but just as in the Episode 1 Robert Burton told us he wrote this book about melancholy in order to avoid being melancholy, so making this series has kept its makers from the same ‘feral plague’.

We hope that you have found some consolation in these 35 extracts and direct you to their source, but if you choose to read either our stage adaptation or the primary text we urge you to do so only in moderation, a little each day, in a well lit room with good air.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 34

August 3rd, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be found here.

You may have thought that cures through sleep had been fully dealt with in Episode 26, but those approaches were all about the physical context in which sleep can be ‘procured’, this episode, in line with Episode 33, takes a medicinal approach. Here are things to imbibe, smell or apply. In short, these are the pre-cursors of our sleeping pills. None of them are easily sourced today, though if you have a compliant pet obtaining the earwax of a dog may not be beyond you.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 33

August 2nd, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be found here.

This episode contains a detailed recipe for a dish of ram’s brain that will cure melancholy. It is a passage I once used when explaining to the uninitiated how The Anatomy Of Melancholy mixes credible advice with crazy seventeenth century nonsense. However, since talking to a neuroscientist last year I’ve had to abandon this approach. He considered the cure not to be totally beyond the bounds of possibility. His reasoning was that if our melancholic had low serotonin levels and the ram’s brain contained serotonin then eating the brain could help, provided it were cooked gently and the serotonin survived the stomach’s acids.

I enjoy being taken to a world in which coffee is just an exotic rumour, being so drunk you vomit is recommended once a month and drug called Bang puts its adherents into a state of ecstasy. Much of this comes as a welcome contrast to the author’s familiar promotion of moderation as the best policy.

So far no one has stepped forward to persuade me that I’ll be cheered up by having hot ram’s lungs applied to my forehead. Surely that is crazy seventeenth century nonsense, but then maybe we shouldn’t dismiss anything without trying it out.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 32

August 1st, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be seen here.

This episode weighs up the merits of using medicines to cure melancholy and there is much to enjoy here.

Initially Robert Burton shares with us his cautious scepticism, after all there is an ‘accurate description’ of people who live an extraordinary span of years in Iceland by entirely avoiding the medical profession. He backs this argument up with a macabre joke about the relative dangers of treatment by physicians or pharmacists before conducting a witty retreat to ensure he doesn’t alienate those may later have to call on for help.

A concern about side effects leads to caution about too ready or lavish a prescription of medicines, a caution which remains with us today.

There is a brilliant cutting down to size of ‘bombast physicians’ (a phrase I am constantly looking to adapt for everyday use). Their cures, which now sound like ‘alternative medicine’, Burton characterises as ‘prodigious, sumptuous, far-fetched, rare [and] conjectural’. One wonders what the few known common garden herbs’ were used by ‘many an old wife or country woman’.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 31

July 31st, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be found here.

The book’s first partition regularly reads like a big list of depressing things that can make you feel depressed. The second partition, focusing on cures, is much more positive and in line with its mirroring of the first, here is a big list of reassuring advice for life. If you feel able follow its suggestions then yours will be a good, content life lived with an easy conscience.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 30

July 30th, 2020

This version is capioned, a non-captioned version can be seen here.

This episode is short and sweet, a balm for anyone who is furious about being overlooked or overshadowed, squeezed out or undervalued. It speaks to a lot of what we see today and was apparently also seen four hundred years ago – presumably has always been seen.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 29

July 29th, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned version can be found here.

Classics are coming think and fast now. Yesterday’s episode was my favourite episode yesterday, today’s episode may well be my favourite today.

What can you do to cure someone of the misery of a loved one dying? It seems impossible and yet Burton tries. He appeals to logic, that sleep is peaceful and death is a continual sleep, so why should we be afraid of that. In a beautiful passage about the inevitability of death he describes how great cities have a limited span before being ‘involved in perpetual night’. He tries the religious consolation of a happy second meeting before setting out the consolation of a happy release. Finally, in a heartbreakingly touching passage he takes us through a consolation for a mother who has lost a child. It is sad and yet glorious stuff.

The Anatomy Of Melancholy: Episode 28

July 28th, 2020

This version is captioned, a non-captioned can be found here.

I love everything about this episode, it is possibly my favourite of the full 35.

I love the argument about the virtue of poverty and the conclusion that this can easily be argued by those who are not poor, but only carries legitimacy from those who are – which calls to mind Marx and historically the great wealth of monasteries, the popes and established religion.

I love the hight of luxury being epitomised as a cloak made from the beards of giants – though personally I’d not find such an item psychologically comfortable.

Most of all I love the consoling words in the final section. I love them as a form of poetry and as a reassuring message. In this performance we were privileged to have an unexpected guest star who make her unscheduled appearance at an extraordinarily appropriate moment. If this doesn’t make you well up then you don’t need to be watching video adaptations about a book helping you avoid melancholy, you need to be seeking counciling for those who have lost their very soul.

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