Looking forward to Shakespeare in 2013

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2013 will be another year for celebrity Shakespeare. James McAvoy will play Macbeth early in the year. The Michael Grandage season continues with David Walliams and Sheridan Smith staring in A Midsummer Night’s Dream, and Jude Law in Henry V.  In autumn, at the Old Vic,  Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones will be playing Beatrice and Bendick in Much Ado About Nothing.  Yet to go on sale, but not a surprise, Adrian Lester will play Othello at the National Theatre.

In Stratford, there are lots to look forward to, particularly the Alex Waldman and Pippa Nixon reunion in As You Like It and again in Hamlet with Jonathan Slinger in the title role.  Joining As You Like It and Hamlet on the RST main stage will be All’s Well that End’s Well, and in the Swan theatre there is a Titus Andronicus.

At the Globe, I’m looking forward to The Tempest, Macbeth and A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

The RSC and the Globe are bringing their Shakespeare  to York with The Winter’s Tale and  a Henry VI season.

There has been a taste for concept Shakespeare recently. The Wyndham’s Much Ado About Nothing and Rupert Goold’s The Merchant of Venice split audiences and the critics, but were very interesting interpretations. Will 2013 bring another surprise?  It looks like the Globe will continue with its original practice approach, and there is talk that the RSC Hamlet might return to renaissance dress.

With most of the summer and autumn mapped out, I am waiting with anticipation, and excitement, for the announcement of Greg Doran’s first season as artistic director of the RSC.  What will be the RSC’s winter season be like?  I doubt we’ll see another long ensemble project, but I think we’ll see the return of the ‘celebrity’ actor to the RSC. I’m sure we’ll know soon.

Dreaming Troilus and Cressida (The Swan and RST August 2012)

In A Midsummer Night’s Dream, worlds mirror each other, and sometimes we are not sure if we are dreaming or in the real (play) world.  For some the play world is a fantasy for seething brains!  Watching both A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Troilus and Cressida in the Swan at the RSC last week, I felt that I should be watching mirrored worlds enacted on stage, but I was unsure where I was and how I was to read the productions. Both were very different  productions, which had their own merits, but in their different ways made me feel like my brain was ‘seething’ as I watched the performances and later after I thought about them, and tried to make sense of the productions.

I had read/heard that many audience members had walked out of Troilus and Cressida at the interval and I had seen some of the reviews. I realised that going to see it myself would be an interesting experience, but nothing really prepared me for how I would feel at the end when I saw it myself.

Troilus and Cressida was a collaboration between the Wooster Group and the RSC.  The production  jangled and jarred as well as being challenging and exciting.  The Trojans were played by the Wooster group and the Greeks by the RSC. Both sides had rehearsed separately and then had come together just before the opening.  The fusing together of two very different styles ground against each other like the screech of chalk across a blackboard  to produce something  that was both mesmeric and embarrassing at the same time.  The mirrored back of stage which turned as each side came on stage set attempted to give the impression that we might be stepping through the mirror to see two worlds reflecting each other. However, I think the shock of this production was that much of the time this didn’t happen. What was exciting was the unexpected, as much as it was frustrating and deeply annoying.

As our expectations were set up, we were frustrated in that these weren’t delivered, and that was uncomfortable, but it was kind of like a jolt as well. The strangeness of what I saw was what was interesting, and that what I saw was nothing that I could expect or consider as an interpretation of the text before I got there.  The production played  totally against finding meaning in the text, and that was uncomfortable, but being challenged and uncomfortable isn’t always a bad thing.  The Trojans were wired up and as they spoke, footage of old hollywood films and Eskimos was projected on four screens on the corners of the thrust stage.  As I started to pay attention to the screens, I realised that the images were mirrored on the screens, and that the action on-screen appeared to the action on stage.  This was a use of multimedia at times seemed pointless, and a distraction, because it was so obvious that what we sere seeing was commenting on the action. However, it  also drew attention to the fact that this was a text which referenced other texts (eg Homer), just as this was a production was referencing film and the company’s video blogs.  It was a reminder that in the play itself characters can’t necessarily make sense of what they see in front of them because what they see seems obvious, but might have other connotations that are not so obvious.  What does Troilus see when he watches Cressida with  Diomedes?  The microphones used by the Wooster Group made the actors’ voices sound dull and flat, but at times it was a haunting sound that was hard for my ear to tune into so I had to try to listen more to really hear what was being said.  In many ways, the Wooster group actors conveyed a lack of  emotion in the way they spoke and this gave a view of the relationships between Troilus and Cressida/Pandarus and Cressida  lacked commitment.  There was a strange vulnerability about the Trojans, which was emphasised by a  contradiction in seeing what was the representation an ancient civilisation, but surrounded by technology that was far from enabling.

The RSC Greeks, in contrast, spoke the verse clearly and without the aid of microphones, but their approach was far from traditional. Joe Dixon played Achilles in such a way his vanity and his pride were were being exhibited as if he was peevish and prone to tantrums. He had the physical appearance of solider, but tried to undermine this by faking illness and at one point wearing a red dress, both these images could be read as the antithesis to the great warrior he is supposed to be.  In contract, to Ajax (Aidan Kelly) in the body suit both mocked his physic, and also reminded me constantly this was a drama with actors playing parts. This was not so far away from the 2009 RSC Julius Caesar where the actors wore flesh coloured body stockings, and we weren’t supposed to have noticed them.  There was some interesting doubling from Danny Webb as Agamemnon and Diomedes. However, actors do double and this relies on the audience forgetting that the actor has just played another character. In many ways this doubling seemed a little absurd.  However, in the current RSC production of Richard III a brother doubles as his brother’s murderer – doubling can be absurd anyway, when it’s not meant to be!  As an audience, we have to try to believe that the actor is playing the character he is playing at a particular point in the play. As an audience we need to buy into the illusion that is happening before us, and this production made that hard for us, as it constantly reminded us that this was a play, and a performance and we had to do much of the work. At times there was something of the TV series MASH being evoked by the RSC Greek world, but in many ways the production took the dark ironic humour of MASH and made it even darker and nightmarish to the point that as an audience member it became uncomfortable to watch. Zubin Varla played as Thersites beautifully to fit into this tone.

The Dream from the Dmitry Krymov Laboratory was so very different from Troilus and Cressida, but it was as unexpected. It was so well crafted and wonderfully funny.  The focus is on the mechanical’s play and s the audience enter the auditorium, the seats have dust cloths across them and the stage is covered in plastic to indicate work taking place.  A mixture of excellent comic acting, circus acts, and mime made this show very entertaining.  The references to the theatre itself were intriguing and the response to the audience in the production was as interesting as the mechanicals putting on their play.

This is the second RSC show this season that I’ve been soaked at.  Next time, I think I’ll take my own towel with me!

The difference between the Russian Dream and the Wooster Group/RSC Troilus and Cressida was that the Russian company worked hard to involve the audience and bring us on side. The challenge of the Swan production was that the production didn’t feel like it responded to the audience, and we had to work hard to comprehend what we saw. Both the Dream and Troilus constantly reminded me, I was in a theatre, and that I was watching theatre. I tried to make sense of what I was seeing and that has made me think about the two productions more than I would if I’d seen a good ‘traditional’ production of the plays. For example, I can remember little of the Globe 2009 production of Troilus and Cressida, but I have a feeling that the Wooster/RSC version will stay with me for some time – for both good and bad reasons.

Reviews and Previews

Storify page

Coriolan/us; Troilus and Cressida – review | Culture | The Observer

Michael Billington on experimental Shakespeare | Culture | The Guardian

Troilus and Cressidea, Swan Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon Hysteria, Theatre Royal, Bath Heartbreak House, Festival Theatre, Chichester – Reviews – Theatre & Dance – The Independent

Troilus and Cressida – review | Stage | The Guardian

Stratford Herald

What other bloggers are saying

Partially Obstructed View: Theatre review: Troilus and Cressida (RSC & Wooster Group / Swan & Riverside Studios)The Stage / Reviews / Troilus and Cressida

Blogging Shakespeare

Troilus and Cressida (Shakespeare's Globe Theatre, 23rd July 2009)

It took me some time to get into Troilus and Cressida at the Globe Theatre. I haven’t seen a production for about 23 years and so it was nice to see a play that was fresh and where I needed to be reminded of the plot. Laura Pyper does a good job at playing the sparky Cressida and Mathew Kelly is excellent as Pandarus. I liked the red streaks in Pyper’s hair, they gave a real feel that Cressida wasn’t much different from teenagers today. Cressida is caught up in a nasty male game. Even though the play is set in Ancient Greece, it felt like we hadn’t really learnt anything all these years later. The second half moves at a much faster pace then the first. As Troilus and Cressida is rarely played, I was glad I saw this production. The druming at the end were stunning.

We sat on the wooden benches and had a really good view, but I felt so stiff at the end. Maybe I need to think about getting one of those cushions next time. During the performance we saw, at least three people suffered from the heat and had to be taken out from the groundlings and there was a downpour in the middle of the performance. That’s the Shakespeare’s Globe experience with the British weather.

Reviews and Previews

The Guardian on Troilus and Cressida
What’s On Stage review of Troilus and Cressida
What’s On Stage on Troilus and Cressida
The Stage / News / Shakespeare’s Globe announce…
Globe Troilus and Cressida – Kelly to star
The Stage on Troilus and Cressida at the Globe
Young cast lead Young Hearts season at Globe …
The Telegraph on Troilus and Cressida
The Stage / News / Shakespeare’s Globe announce…
Young cast lead Young Hearts season at Globe …
Londonist review of Troilus and Cressida
Troilus and Cressida Evening Standard Review
Independent on Sunday on Troilus and Cressida and Black Album
Troilus and Cressida in the Independent