Published on March 5th, 2018 | by Ken Gargett


Montecristo No 2 | Talisker Dark Storm | Hanssens Oudbeitje Lambic

Now, I know I am an inch from being forever branded a pretentious tosspot for this, but I would like to go on record as saying that I truly do love Shakespeare. I think he is utterly brilliant. Yes, I know that any number of you are looking the other way and quietly whispering, ‘wanker’. And fair enough. But I really do think he is beyond extraordinary (I’d even go so far to say that he was the Springsteen of his day).

I’m sure I was like every schoolkid when first introduced – if memory serves, we did ‘Hamlet’ and ‘Julius Caesar’ – in equal parts, suitably bored and mortified we had this ancient rubbish fostered on us.

When I went over to London study, which now seems so long ago it feels about the same time the Bard himself was still working, I discovered that if one went to the “previews”, which were for all intents and purposes, exactly the same as the plays/shows/etc themselves, it was way, way cheaper. Five quid instead of fifty, sort of stuff. So, I went to quite a few plays whenever I had the chance. Young student in London. Mad not to. And I loved doing it. I found myself at a couple of Shakespeare’s. I suspect I went because I thought it was what I should be doing (only so many times you can do Rocky Horror Picture Show), rather than what I thought I’d enjoy. But enjoy, I did. Next thing, I was at more and more. These days, for any lengthy period of travel, I’ll almost certainly toss in a Shakespeare play amongst the books for the trip.

My second year in London, I decided that I would aim for a different Shakespeare play every week. As well as the big ticket stuff, there were plenty of smaller efforts and even the odd community effort. I remember once going to a small room over a pub where the local theatre group was doing ‘Midsummer Night’s Dream’ on a stage the size of two ping pong tables. And they did a fantastic job.

I had no trouble reaching my self-imposed quota. Finished it with months to spare. Got to see some of the great actors on the London stage. Went up to Stratford with friends and saw four over a few days. Anthony Sher playing the Merchant (‘M of Venice’). In London, I saw Anthony Hopkins as Anthony (as in with ‘Cleopatra’ – who was played by Judi Dench) and also saw him as ‘Lear’, now considered one of the legendary Shakespearian performances. I thought it was so good, I went back the next week to see it again. It remains the most extraordinary evening of theatre I have ever seen. Bill Nighy was also in the cast. And ‘King Lear’ has long been my favourite Shakespeare.

The other bloke I would never miss was Michael Kitchen, who I believe is one of the most underrated actors of the last few decades. Yes, ‘Foyles War’ and many other small tv roles, but when he was younger, he did some amazing stuff on the stage. I remember him stealing the show as Mercutio in ‘Romeo & Juliet’. Which, of course, returns us to cigars.

I’d taped the recent Michael Fassbender portrayal of ‘Macbeth’ which had been on late at night, and was keen to watch it. ‘Macbeth’ has never been my fave Billy Shakespeare but it is not bad!

So, I settled back and thought a night with the classics. ‘Macbeth’, a Montecristo No 2 (GSU OCT 06) and for reasons unknown, the Hanssens Oudbeitje Lambic – a Belgian strawberry-infused Lambic beer. Quite why I thought that was a good idea for a classics evening beggar’s belief.

The cigar was as good as one could expect. Very quickly settled into a rich, toasty style, with notes of chocolate. A little raw and rustic but complex and looking very much like it still has years ahead of it. Definitely a classic. 94, if anyone wants a score.

And that was pretty much it. Downhill from there.

Macbeth? Started off all very atmospheric and promising. Now, I’ll confess that it always takes me a couple of minutes to get in tune with the language, the tone, the rhythms. But normally, after a few minutes, I’m good. This time, it was really difficult. Part of that was because they were doing the Bard in thick Scottish accents (yes, I know it is a Scottish play, but that does not make understanding the accents any easier). But also because the idiot director so often had the actors speaking away from the camera. So, we were hearing the actor and seeing the reactions of whomsoever they were talking to, but it is always harder to follow a conversation if you can’t see the person speaking. Particularly if they are mumbling in some weird dialect that requires ‘rrr’ to be inserted three times a word (I should state that a fair percentage of me is Scottish by descent).

It reminded me so much of 007’s ‘Quantum of Solace’. I have always believed that this could have been a very good Bond film, but for the director stuffing it up. Watch it by fast forwarding through the fight scenes (yes, that largely defeats the purpose of a Bond film), as you won’t be able to follow them anyway as they pinball about and who knows what is going on, and the material is not bad. Likewise, one could hardly bag the scriptwriter for ‘Macbeth’. I even wondered if the same bloke might have directed both so checked. To my horror, ‘Macbeth’ was done by an Aussie. The shame…

I gave up, even before the spots appeared!

So, one turns to the beer. Now, I have had some of these Belgian Lambics before and loved them. A black cherry one, possibly even the same producer, from about two decades ago, still remains with me. And what an extraordinary match it was for a strong blue cheese. This one? Not so much.

I can only assume that this was a dud bottle. It was dead flat, tasted far more of orange rind than strawberries and was horribly sour. Apparently, they infuse 150 kgs of strawberries in every 600 litre barrel. A waste of good strawberries, if you ask me. To be honest, as bad a beer as I have ever suffered. As for matching the Monte? A complete shambles. I would not have put it with a Monte C.

Then it dawned on me that watching the Scottish Play really did require a good malt, not a Belgian beer (yes, I was a bit tired and not thinking). So, I swapped to a Talisker Dark Storm in an attempt to rectify such a mistake. And yes, the mood, the match and Macbeth all seemed better for it. Though in the end it did not save the flick. Next time, a good Scotch from the start.

And I will take no notice of the Bard and his belief that “drink, sir, is a great provoker of three things . . . nose-painting, sleep, and urine”.

Nose painting?



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