sun 14/07/2024

Cunk on Shakespeare, BBC Two | reviews, news & interviews

Cunk on Shakespeare, BBC Two

Cunk on Shakespeare, BBC Two

Charlie Brooker's satirical presenter is pitch-perfect

Philomena Cunk (Diane Morgan) on 'king of the bards'

Parodic ignoramus Philomena Cunk has been flaunting her narrow cultural horizons on Charlie Brooker’s Weekly Wipe for many years, and more recently extended her shallow range to such weighty issues as feminism and the financial crisis in her Moments of Wonder series. Shakespeare, though? There is plenty of opportunity to be dumb, but could it still be funny? Actually, it was a delight.

Cunk’s stock-in-trade, the faux-naif misunderstanding, delivered completely deadpan, worked a treat, but that’s only the start of her comic journey. The best lines emerged in a baroque concatenation of idiocy, as she juggled a whole series of sticks, clutching the wrong end of each one. For example, the assertion that plays as a form are not realistic, because actors shout, which is in turn because theatres placed the seats too far away. Or: “If you go to a Shakespeare comedy today you will hear people laughing as if there are jokes, even though there definitely aren’t. That’s how clever Shakespeare is.”

Cunk herself is a gratuitous Bottom, revelling in a momentary fantasy of being taken seriously

There were superbly oblique one-liners, too, that sprung from nowhere. Hamlet, “with its famous speech about bees”, or Cunk’s scatological mispronunciation of Titus Andronicus. Diane Morgan’s performance had as big a role, however: there was a wonderfully childish delight in her expression as she spotted the “anus” in “Coriolanus”, and much of the fun is to be had in the gaps revealed between her puerility and attempts at learning. But she (and the writers and directors) also satirise the pompous conventions of TV documentary, from the self-important locations in red-velveted theatres, or strolling through colonnades, giving portentously loaded glances to camera.

The interview sections are reminiscent of early Ali G. Playing the straight man as interviewee in these encounters is always tricky, though unlike the earliest Ali G victims (Tony Benn and Noam Chomsky had a decided sense-of-humour failure), Cunk’s subjects must have known what they were getting. Only Simon Russell Beale (who insisted that the playwright’s words do actually matter) seemed to be enjoying the experience.

Shakespeare Birthplace Trust’s head of collections Paul Taylor played along gamely until his precious artefacts were threatened, when Cunk’s spat with him about the wearing of white gloves to handle old books (Simon Schama wears them, so Cunk will too) became another charmingly pointed comment on the self-important conventions of documentary. In a couple of other interviews the joke began to wear a bit thin.   

Diane Morgan offers a more complete performance than Baron Cohen. Ali G’s interview sketches were often smash 'n’ grab comedy, but with Cunk we get a satirical dissection of the whole genre. At their best, her jokes unfurled with mille-feuille Alice-In-Wonderland absurdity, the writing, direction and acting lining up perfectly together.  

Ultimately, of course, the inclusion of an irreverent foil in the serious literary celebrations taking place elsewhere could hardly be more Shakespearean. She is the anniversary’s fool, the programme’s writers offering a sophisticated, Oberonesque commentary on the nature of televisual artifice, while Cunk herself is a gratuitous Bottom, revelling in a momentary fantasy of being taken seriously. Delightful.   


The best lines emerged in a baroque concatenation of idiocy


Editor Rating: 
Average: 4 (1 vote)

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Disrespect in the highest order, maybe she's being theatrical , hip , whatever she was fully disrespectful pointless , meaningless , and pathetic . God bless England's literacy the future of literacy and beyond . Let's face it people like her are all over and so is English. 

You really don't get the joke do you?

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