We caught up with theatre maker Ed Viney at Bristol Shakespeare Festival where he was directing the new comedy play “Shakespeare’s Worst”

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Which play or area of Shakespeare are you working on right now – and what are you getting from it?
“Currently working on Shakespeare’s Worst which is a play by Mike Reiss, former writer/producer on The Simpsons, and Nick Newlin, Shakespearean scholar. It’s about a group of actors staging The Two Gentlemen of Verona, arguably Shakespeare’s worst play. It’s a play on a play and all the things you’d like to say when sat in a theatre watching a really awful production of Shakespeare. It’s very liberating!”

What have you learned about Shakespeare that would have surprised your younger self?
“It’s deceptively simple when you say it aloud.”

Which Shakespeare character most resembles you?

“Benedick.” (Much Ado About Nothing)

If I ask you to give me a Shakespeare quotation, which is the first one that comes to your mind?
“Simply the thing I am shall make me live.” (Parolles in All’s Well That Ends Well)

What’s your favourite Shakespeare-related fact?

“Shakespeare wrote for actors.”

You have the power to cast anyone in the world (actor or otherwise) to play any Shakespearean character. Who do you choose – and which role do they play?

“Robert Downey Jnr as Lady Macbeth.”

Shakespeare’s Worst has now ended, but Bristol Shakespeare Festival continues until 29 July.

Go to the Festival website for more details.

A powerful short film from Fractured Shakespeare, Was it Rape Then? makes unsettling use of Shakespeare’s words. Co-creator Charissa J Adams takes us behind the text

Was it Rape Then? from Lady Brain by Casey Gates on Vimeo.

How did the idea arise for using Shakespeare in this film?
“The idea originated with Shakespeare. For as long as I can remember, I have loved Shakespeare. Not just the plays and stories, but the words and metaphors he uses to express the human condition. A few years ago, the idea emerged to take Shakespeare’s words out of context and use them to express a new character’s thoughts and emotions. I then started playing around with pairing famous lines from different plays together to find new meaning. Last November, I set about forming a monologue on a subject which has resonated with me for a long time. This text was the result. From that monologue, this short film was made.”

Jessica Marie Garcia

Jessica Marie Garcia

The script includes lines from The Taming of the Shrew, Much Ado About Nothing, The Tempest, Macbeth, Henry V and Coriolanus. But the title doesn’t seem to allude to Shakespeare? What was your thinking behind that choice?
“The title and first section of text comes from Double Falsehood, which is most likely not Shakespeare’s words, but the passage was just too rich to ignore. And since it speaks to doubt in consent, the doubt surrounding the text’s origins seemed strangely appropriate. I could not ignore its usefulness, and it played such a crucial role in inspiring the creation of the piece, that it felt appropriate to leave it in.”

Karen Pittman

Karen Pittman

Double Falsehood is very rarely cited – what led to your interest in it? Was there a particular edition you used? And would you recommend it as a stand alone work?
“As I was creating this piece, I began searching any of Shakespeare’s text which dealt with consent and/or rape. This monologue of Henriquez is what surfaced. It is quite an interesting piece of text when you think about the time in which it was written. Consent is something we are much more aware of now, especially in the last five or ten years. However, here we have this man arguing with himself over whether or not he raped this woman.

Charissa J. Adams

Charissa J. Adams

“He uses the excuse that we often still hear men use today: ‘Twas but the coyness of a modest bride, Not the resentment of a ravish’d maid’. Essentially saying she was just shy and she didn’t say ‘No’. This is the very reason More Than “No” was started. Consent is more than not hearing ‘No’. It is a freely given, not under the influence of drugs or alcohol, not under-age, and an undeniable ‘Yes’, given verbally or non-verbally.

“In the end, he concludes: ‘While they, who have, like me, The loose escapes of youthful nature known, Must wink at mine, indulgent to their own’. Saying any other man would have done the same or ‘Boys will be boys’. This is the epitome of rape culture, which is exactly what we are trying to confront with Was it Rape Then?.

Sujana Chand

Sujana Chand

“As for the edition, I use the Shakespeare app produced by PlayShakespeare.com for a lot of my research. It is so easy to use! They site the year as 1728. That is all the information I could find about which edition they use.

“I would not recommend it as a stand alone piece. I think it is flawed in several ways – in the characters and especially the ending which seems to wrap up too quickly without fully dealing with each of the character’s arcs. I think that The Comedy of Errors and The Two Gentlemen of Verona are superior plays with similar themes.”

This summer, why not study Shakespeare in the beautiful English city of Cambridge? The University of Cambridge International Summer Programmes bring together adults of all ages and backgrounds to learn from some of its finest academics

For centuries, the University of Cambridge has shaped and changed the world through visionary ideas and ground-breaking discoveries. And its International Summer Programmes (9 July–19 August 2017), with their reputation for excellent teaching and inspirational programmes, reflect this heritage.

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The Shakespeare Summer Programme (6-19 August) allows you to find out about the latest developments in Shakespeare studies. You can study the power, beauty, meaning and context of his plays; explore aspects of performance in workshops led by a professional actor and director, and discover connections with the wider world of Elizabethan culture.

Leading academics teach a rich collection of open-access courses and the classroom sessions allow for close discussion with these course directors. Classes are supplemented by morning lectures and evening talks given by subject specialists. What’s more, you can join an excursion to see Much Ado About Nothing at Shakespeare’s Globe and enjoy evening performances of some of his plays in beautiful Cambridge College gardens.

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Other programmes include Literature, Creative Writing, Ancient and Classical Worlds, History, and Medieval Studies.

To add to the experience you can stay in a historic College close to the city centre. Each is different in character, but all offer a warm welcome and the opportunity to meet fellow students at meals in magnificent dining halls.

Long summer days provide opportunities to discover a peaceful side of the city that tourists seldom see. You can explore the beautiful Colleges, visit art galleries and museums, relax in a punt on the river, or share a traditional English tea in nearby Grantchester.

It’s no wonder so many people return year after year to broaden their perspectives, enjoy being in this remarkable place and getting together with old friends from all over the world.

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More information on the International Summer Programmes may be found here, or you can email: intenq@ice.cam.ac.uk

The International Summer Programmes are part of the University’s Institute of Continuing Education.

For nearly three decades, actor-director Kenneth Branagh has been bringing the Bard to the big screen. Kelli Marshall asks: has he earned the title of Shakespearean Auteur?

Auteurs are filmmakers whose personal influence and artistic control are so great that, despite the collaborative process of moviemaking, we recognize them as the authors of their films. Auteurs you may have heard of include Charlie Chaplin, John Ford, Alfred Hitchcock, Steven Spielberg, Spike Lee and Quentin Tarantino.

Henry V

Henry V

What about filmmakers who consistently work within the realm of Shakespeare? Can we consider, for example, Laurence Olivier, Orson Welles, Akira Kurosawa, Julie Taymor and Kenneth Branagh masters of Shakespeare onscreen?

A recent issue of Shakespeare Quarterly takes on the first four directors, so let’s consider Kenneth Branagh – who has brought to screen, in some form or another, nearly 20 percent of Shakespeare’s works.

Much Ado About Nothing

Much Ado About Nothing

Branagh has directed film adaptations of Henry V (1989), Much Ado about Nothing (1993), Hamlet (1996), Love’s Labour’s Lost (2000) and As You Like It (2006). His 1995 film In The Bleak Midwinter (US title: A Midwinter’s Tale) features a struggling actor who strives to put on a production of Hamlet in a village church. Most recently, rumors have circulated that Martin Scorsese will produce a sort of documentary with Branagh as Macbeth.

Hamlet

Hamlet

Even Branagh’s non-Shakespearean ventures feature Shakespearean themes. Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein (1994) contains Hamlet’s existential ideas, a Titus Andronicus-like house of spare body parts, and echoes of Caliban as Robert De Niro’s monster laments onscreen: “Yes, I speak, and read, and think, and know the ways of man”.

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Love’s Labour’s Lost

Additionally, Branagh’s Hollywood blockbusters like Thor (2011) and Cinderella (2014) consist of, respectively, a flawed hero who must earn the right to be king and a fairy-tale world that Branagh has, in interviews, likened to The Winter’s Tale. Finally, also reaffirming Branagh’s association with cinematic Shakespeare are his turn as Iago in Oliver Parker’s Othello (1995) and as Laurence Olivier in My Week with Marilyn (2011).

As You Like It

As You Like It

Another reason we can consider Branagh an auteur of Shakespeare onscreen is his loyalty to British Shakespeare actors and production team. This deliberate choice contributes not only to Branagh’s style, but also to the films’ seeming credibility. In other words, trained British actors “doing Shakespeare” are theoretically more palatable for many audiences than someone like Al Pacino, for example, whose American accent was ridiculed in his Richard III-based documentary, Looking for Richard (1996).

Othello

Othello

Like John Ford, Spike Lee, and Quentin Tarantino, Kenneth Branagh recycles collaborators. He consistentely employs Tim Harvey (production designer), Patrick Doyle (composer) and Roger Lanser (cinematographer) as well as core cast members like Brian Blessed, Derek Jacobi, Richard Clifford and Richard Briers. Indeed, when these names appear onscreen, we know we’re getting a Branagh film.

That said, Branagh also stocks his films with multinational and multiracial casts. He knows that, in order for his Shakespeare adaptations to succeed in the US, American stars like Denzel Washington, Michael Keaton, Keanu Reeves, Kevin Kline and Bryce Dallas Howard can help boost those box-office receipts.

In The Bleak Midwinter

In The Bleak Midwinter

Speaking of casting, Kenneth Branagh also repeatedly casts himself in his own adaptations. Like Spike Lee and Woody Allen, this makes him a director/auteur who unquestionably stamps his own personality onto his body of work. Aside from As You Like It, in which he appears only via voiceover, each of Branagh’s Shakespeare films stars Kenneth Branagh.

Moreover, as Jessica Maerz reminds readers in Locating Shakespeare in the Twenty-First Century, virtually all of Branagh’s Shakespeare film adaptations are based on previous theatrical productions in which he starred at the Royal Shakespeare Company and Renaissance Theatre Company. Again, this decision lends a sense of credibility to Branagh’s filmic work.

My Week With Marilyn

My Week With Marilyn

As a Shakespeare film director, Branagh mostly eschews early modern settings and costumes, a decision that reinforces his desire to bring Shakespeare to the masses. Kenneth Branagh’s Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, and Hamlet offer audiences a vague notion of the past, and the Shepperton soundstage for Love’s Labour’s Lost has been described as being “decked out with walls, willows and punts to make a kind of ‘movie Oxbridge’.”

Only with As You Like It does Branagh give viewers a specific historical time and place: the film’s title card begins with: “In the latter part of the 19th century, Japan opened up for trade with the West”. For Branagh then, moving around Shakespeare physically and temporally makes it seem as though he, as the Washington Post once noted, is finally “blowing away the forbidding academic dust”.

Director Branagh with the stars of Thor

Director Branagh with the stars of Thor

Finally, Kenneth Branagh’s Shakespeare film adaptations (and many of his non-Shakespeare films) include rich mise-en-scenes and sweeping cinematography, both of which serve to illuminate Shakespeare’s poetry and prose.

Recall the lushness of color, texture, food, and costume within Branagh’s Much Ado and As You Like It, both visually romantic films. Even his Hamlet – with its wintry setting, the never-ending streams of gilded mirrors, and the hardened stone walls of Blenheim Palace – appear visually luxurious on a 30-foot screen, not to mention in 70mm (as it premiered).

Likewise, Branagh’s cinematographic choices – specifically sequence shots, or scenes that unfold in one long take, and Steadicam tracking shots that encircle characters – work with the flow of Shakespeare’s language. Perhaps the most memorable example of both of these stylistic choices is his four-minute tracking shot in Henry V, in which Branagh’s Prince Hal carries his dead luggage boy (Christian Bale) across the solider-strewn battlefield as ‘Non Nobis’ somberly plays on the soundtrack.

Cinderella

Cinderella

Like other filmmakers who’ve been labelled auteurs, Kenneth Branagh is drawn to distinct stories, themes and motifs. He commits to a core cast and crew (that often includes himself). He also refuses to set Shakespeare contemporaneously and possesses a passionate desire to bring Shakespeare’s language to the masses.

Finally, he boasts a signature directorial style and production aesthetic. But through it all, Kenneth Branagh almost always helps to shine a light on Shakespeare – and really, isn’t that what a master of Shakespeare onscreen should do?

Actor and director Sir Kenneth Branagh receives prestigious Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award in Stratford-upon-Avon

Shakespeare superstar Kenneth Branagh.

Shakespeare superstar Kenneth Branagh.

Sir Kenneth Branagh has received the 2015 Pragnell Shakespeare Birthday Award.

The distinguished Shakespearean actor/director and award-winning international film star was chosen to receive the award by representatives of the Shakespeare Birthplace Trust, the Royal Shakespeare Company and the Shakespeare Institute chose.
The award was presented on Saturday 25 April at the Shakespeare Birthday Luncheon held at the Theatre Gardens in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Sponsored by Stratford-based jewellers George Pragnell Limited, the award is given annually “for outstanding achievement in extending the appreciation and enjoyment of the works of William Shakespeare or in the general advancement of Shakespearean knowledge and understanding”.
Last year’s award was presented to Sir Nicholas Hytner. Other acclaimed recipients include Sir Ian McKellen, Sir Patrick Stewart, Sir Peter Hall, Dame Judi Dench and Dame Harriet Walter.

Belfast-born Branagh joined the Royal Shakespeare Company in 1984, where he received acclaim for his performances in Hamlet and Henry V. His most recent Shakespeare production, Macbeth (Manchester International Festival and the Armory, New York), marked his 25th Shakespeare production.

Five-times Oscar nominated Branagh has directed and starred in several film adaptations of William Shakespeare’s plays, including Henry V, Much Ado About Nothing, Othello, Hamlet, Love Labour’s Lost and As You Like It.

He has recently announced the launch of his own Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company which will stage Shakespeare plays The Winter’s Tale and Romeo and Juliet.

Sir Ken said: “I am honoured to be this year’s recipient of the distinguished Pragnell Shakespeare award. To be in the company of such illustrious predecessors is both touching and meaningful. I look forward very much to returning to Stratford, a town I love, and of course, to a delightful lunch to celebrate Shakespeare’s birthday!”

Shakespeare Magazine's Emma Wheatley with Sir Kenneth Branagh in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Shakespeare Magazine’s Emma Wheatley with Sir Kenneth Branagh in Stratford-upon-Avon.

Professor Stanley Wells, Shakespeare Birthplace Trust Honorary President said: “Kenneth Branagh is more than worthy of this prestigious award, both as a great actor and director of Shakespeare on stage and as an innovative, prolific and highly successful director and actor in films of Shakespeare that have brought his plays to global audiences who would never otherwise have been able to enjoy them.”

The President and Master of Ceremonies for the afternoon was distinguished historian Michael Wood, while the toast to the Immortal Memory of William Shakespeare was delivered by writer and broadcaster Gyles Brandreth.

Stand-up comedian, actress, writer, vegan and all-round clever clogs Sara Pascoe is a big fan of William Shakespeare, and she’s not afraid to shout about it

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How on earth?

“I’ve got an English degree, and a big part of my life at university was throwing off the misunderstandings and misapprehensions I’d had about Shakespeare at school and coming to appreciate him properly. At school I think we got taught Macbeth and King Lear and A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and the teacher would say ‘Oh, you see what he’s saying here? He’s saying this’, and I would think ‘How on earth?’ I just didn’t believe them, I thought the teachers were making it up. Then when I was at university we had to read virtually all of the plays and we went into much more depth. That was when I suddenly realised how clever Shakespeare was, and it was mind-blowing.”

My favourite play…

“I did love the Sonnets. I think they’re so accessible and they have such universal themes – death, and time, and how we replicate ourselves. If I had to pick a favourite play… I really loved The Winter’s Tale actually, and I remember thinking Measure for Measure was brilliant, but I think probably Hamlet is my favourite.
“The one I seem to have seen most is As You Like It. I saw an RSC production of Much Ado About Nothing which had Tamsin Greig as Beatrice. They set it I think in Cuba or South America and it was just fantastic, really rhythmic and hilarious.”

If Shakespeare were here today…
“Shakespeare nowadays? Oh gosh, it would be something incredible, wouldn’t it? He was so fantastic at creating these flawed heroes where you could absolutely see how life had made them behave in a certain way, and because of that behaviour drama just unfolds everywhere around them. He’d put everyone else to shame because he’d be writing comedies and dramas and films all at the same time. Even now, people would probably be saying ‘Is it really just one man? It must be a committee of people doing it secretly!’”
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He always sees the full picture
“I just think he understands human psychology so brilliantly. He understands cause and effect, he understands how people can be trying to be good, but also that their worldview might be slightly too myopic to enable them to see anything larger. However, he as the writer always manages to see the full picture and always, especially in the greatest of the plays, manages to create such a viable world that it doesn’t seem fictional. I recently saw the Macbeth they did at the Globe where they made the play a comedy, very successfully. And I thought that was so fantastic because the ambitions of the Macbeths had such lightness of touch all of a sudden, and the play still held together, it still felt true.”

Ten Things I Hate About You
“I think what was always surprising, probably because of the age I was when they came out, was finding out that things like Ten Things I Hate About You was The Taming of the Shrew. It’s always great when you think ‘Oh! Yes, I see, it’s that story!’ I’ve been watching House of Cards, and they’ve very clearly jumped off from Macbeth.”

On being a teenage skateboard fairy
“I do talk about Shakespeare in my show that I’m touring with at the moment. I have a little routine about being told that A Midsummer Night’s Dream was a comedy and how as a 15, 16-year-old having teachers try to say ‘Look, here’s the joke – the queen loves a donkey!’ you just think ‘I don’t get it’. The routine’s about that and how in our production we were trying to liven it up. Everyone wants to do their own ground-breaking thing with Shakespeare, even though it’s all already been done. So I played Puck, but I was on a skateboard and I knocked myself out. Twice. I wasn’t very good at the skateboard. We really thought this was ground-breaking at the time.”
Sara Pascoe press pic

All about the attitude
“I think that’s what’s so interesting about new productions, they make you meet characters again in a different way. I really like Hermione from The Winter’s Tale. I think that her speeches are so brave and courageous. I’ll always love Kate from The Taming of the Shrew too, but she doesn’t even really talk very much in the play. It’s much more the attitude and the performance of her, isn’t it?

“Beatrice and Benedick’s whole repartee with each other, it’s so brilliant to watch on stage because it doesn’t come across on the page in the same way. Trying to overhear somebody else’s conversation while hiding behind a pot plant, I always think that’s so hysterical.”

Women with brains and activity and thoughts
“I think in terms of his time he was incredible. This was a time when women weren’t allowed on the stage. To be born a woman and want to be creative was impossible. You couldn’t own property, you couldn’t earn money, you were either born into a rich family to be married off, or you were born with no money and very limited options. Shakespeare did write women with brains and activity and thoughts, and I think in some plays the women are as varied as the men in terms of morality and intelligence. Although now for actresses the number of men on stage to the number of women is probably a bit frustrating, it could be a whole lot worse, so I think he should be respected for that.

“Also people are now putting on all-female productions. That’s so exciting because in Shakespeare’s day it would have been an all-male company, and now the opposite is completely possible.”

Most Shakespeare thing I’ve done…
“This isn’t so much a Shakespeare thing as a me thing, but I’ve been to the RSC twice to do stand-up. I got to do stand-up on the stage at the Swan, and that was amazing. Stratford-upon-Avon is a wonderful place. You walk around thinking ‘Oh my god, this is where Shakespeare was born’. Then I remember that I live in London – where he chose to live.”

Go here to find out more about Sara and check out her latest tour dates.

This interview originally appeared in Issue 6 of Shakespeare Magazine. Go here to see the original version.

Much Ado About Something as Shakespeare’s legendary lost play Love’s Labour’s Won surfaces in Stratford – or does it?

Love’s Labour’s Won is famously listed as one of Shakespeare’s ‘lost plays’. However, some academics believe it is in fact not lost but is actually an alternate name for another play, in the way that Twelfth Night is also called What You Will. The RSC’s Artistic Director Gregory Doran appears to believe this theory and goes one further to suggest that the much-beloved Much Ado About Nothing is in fact the missing play. Re-designating Much Ado as Love’s Labour’s Won and pairing it with Shakespeare’s other screwball rom-com Love’s Labour’s Lost for the first time forms the basis of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre’s 2014 winter season.

Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett as Beatrice and Benedick.

Michelle Terry and Edward Bennett as Beatrice and Benedick.


Love’s Labour’s Won
 sees Edward Bennett and Michelle Terry both making their return to the RSC to play the bickering couple of Benedick and Beatrice, with Edward Bennett returning for the first time since stepping into David Tennant’s shoes to play Hamlet during the London run in 2008.

Director Christopher Luscombe has set the play in 1918 as soldiers return from World War I and used local Tudor house Charlecote Park as his setting. Set designer Simon Higlett had the task of recreating this historical home on stage and he has done a marvellous job doing so. It looks and feels as if you are stepping into an episode of Downton Abbey with the luxious main set featuring a grand piano and a beautifully decorated large Christmas tree.

The production’s handsome Downton Abbey-esque set.

The production’s handsome Downton Abbey-esque set.

Edward Bennett plays Benedick with great wit and comedic timing. In particular the ‘gulling’ scene, where he overhears about Beatrice’s love for him, is full of laughs as he is humiliated by his peers. A personal highlight sees Benedick being semi-electrocuted inside the Christmas tree.

Michelle Terry is more than a match as Beatrice. Just as sharp-tongued and funny as Benedick she stands as a perfect match for Bennett’s returned war hero. Terry holds her own as the feisty and independent heroine. When the couple finally unite the romance pours out of them onstage and they are without a doubt the true and unpredictable love story of the play.

Claudio (Tunji Kasim) and Benedick.

Claudio (Tunji Kasim) and Benedick.

A notable mention should go to Sam Alexander as the villainous Don John. He appears on crutches, having been injured in the war, which helps his bitterness and hatred shine through.

The play raised many laughs from the audience and none more so than the scene of Dogberry and Verges interrogating Borachio and his co-conspirators regarding their roles in the thwarted marriage of Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst) and Claudio (Tunji Kasim). The hectic confusion is played out perfectly on stage, helped along by the brilliant idea to stage it all within a small portion of the set.

The marriage of Claudio and Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).

The marriage of Claudio and Hero (Flora Spencer-Longhurst).


Much Ado About Nothing
– I mean Love’s Labour’s Won – is well-staged, well-acted and a perfect companion for the Love’s Labour’s Lost. It runs until 14 March 2015.

Go here to buy tickets for Love’s labour’s Won.

All 10 episodes now available of web series inspired by Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing

Written and directed by Colleen Scriven, A Bit Much is a new web series based on Shakespeare’s classic comedy Much Ado About Nothing. “It takes the War of the Sexes out of 16th century Sicily,” Colleen explains, “and into the equally scenic and exotic Camp Messina in upstate New York.”
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Despite the updated script, costumes and characters, Colleen argues that the themes of the series strive to be the same as those of the play. “The characters - no longer lords and ladies, but campers and counsellors - still struggle with deception, love, friendship, jealousy and sex.”
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Colleen describes the series as being in a similar vein to popular Shakespeare modernisations such as She’s the Man and Ten Things I Hate About You. However, A Bit Much is the first adaptation of its kind to premiere as a web series. YA Bit Much4
Colleen herself co-stars in the series, as part of an all-student cast. You can find out more and watch all 10 episodes of A Bit Much here. (Contains strong language and adult themes)

Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing gets the royal treatment in Stockholm, Sweden

The Stockholm English Speaking Theatre’s Much Ado About Nothing is celebrating the Bard’s 450th birthday with a royal performance.

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The production may be set in Sicily in the late 1950s, but the performances themselves will take place in the grounds of a Swedish palace.

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After opening performances (11 and 12 July) at the park theatre on Djurgården, the action moves to Drottningholms Palace Garden and Rosendals Wärdshus on Djurgården for later performances.

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A cast of six actors portrays the complete set of Shakespeare’s characters, presenting a performance full of “flamboyant costumes, swords, singing and dancing,” says SEST co-founder Kristina Leon.

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The show will run until 2 August. To find specific performance times and to purchase tickets visit the company’s Facebook page.