Lent Term: Cambridge Drama, 2003
Michael Grosvenor Myer
Grosvenor Myer, Michael. "Lent Term: Cambridge Drama, 2003." Early Modern Literary Studies 9.1 (May, 2003): 22.1-5 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/09-1/grosmyre.html>.
Revengers Tragedy, Alex Cox's strange film version of The Revenger's Tragedy, turned up at the Arts Picture House; firmly attributed to Middleton, though Tourneur's claim is touched on only to be dismissed on the movie's website. It is an odd avatar, set in what looks like a post-bomb Liverpool, where the Duke is the local tycoon who runs the nightclubs and television channels and the Liver Building is surrounded by wild grass, its Renaissance Italian credentials enhanced by sharing the Scouse skyline with a wandered-in-from-Florence Palazzo Vecchio. Text more or less the authorised version with a Merseyside accent, apart from the odd interpolated "fuck [or fook] off" to authenticate contemporaneity. Christopher Eccleston and Andrew Schofield make a fine saturnine pair of avengers, Derek Jacobi (Duke), Diana Quick (Duchess), Eddie Izzard (a revelation as a sado-masochistic, self-mutilating Lussurioso) and Marc Warren (a camply giggling Supervacuo) create an underworld-court convincingly corrupt and self-regarding. Sideswipes abound at such recent holy cows as post-Diana's-death hysteria--schoolkids bussed in to lay teddybears and polythene-wrapped bouquets on the steps where Antonio's raped and suicided wife lies in state, for instance--and the Liverpool location sets were digitally enhanced to give us lots of Rats-Alley atmosphere. But any significant new insights into that strange, perverse Jacobean tragicomedy contrived to pass me by. Lorrafun wack, but all a bit factitious, was my overall impression.
Various sort-of-Shakespeareana at the Arts this term: West Side Story (Cambridge University Musical Theatre Society [who really do put "CUMTS" on their programme--can't decide if they're trying to be funny or just innocent], a bit underpowered but contriving the occasional genuine tragic frisson where needed); a Hamlet ballet; and the admirable Tom Conti as John Barrymore in William Luce's A Helluva Life (about his drinking mostly, but with a convincing account of Barrymore's famously non-declamatory rendering of Hamlet's soliloquy). In an interview in The Stage, Conti relates that he has never done any Shakespeare because he just doesn't like him: "quite a poor dramatist," "disproportionate reverence," "arse-crushingly boring," are among his animadversions. On this evidence, a loss to us all. Goodness how sad.
Only one or two Shakespeare-based ballets, like the Prokofiev R&J, have really made it into the standard rep. I lament the loss of the impressive Hamlet which I remember seeing at Sadlers Wells nearly 60 years ago; Robert Helpmann and Margot Fonteyn, music by Arthur Bliss, and a dominating, nightmarish set by Leslie Hurry, have stuck in my mind ever since, as has its Freudian theme of the dying Prince, carried to the platform by four cowled, monkish figures, experiencing in his sleep-of-death a fusion and confusion of Gertrude and Ophelia. It was largely in honour of its memory that I welcomed Kim Brandstrup's impressive Arc Dance version of the same play. This, too, had a sort of dream-like theme, of Hamlet's being both spectator and participant, as one is in dreams of being at performances. The original was not slavishly followed--no Horatio, no travels abroad, no Rose'n'Guild; but some of the play's offstage bits were visualised, like Old Hamlet's funeral (where Gertrude's angular grief, as danced by Joanne Fong, was particularly poignant), followed by Claudius's violent courtship, verging on rape, strenuously resisted but ultimately successful. Then (a marvellous moment) Karl Sullivan's grey-doubleted Ghost rose with clumsy stiffness from its tomb, casting a vast shadow to terrify its grieving son. Other memorable incidents were Hamlet's rehearsal of the Player Murderer in the pouring of the hemlock, the Ghost hovering fleetingly over the re-enactment of his death, like Susan Hill's Woman In Black in Stephen Mallatratt's creative dramatisation; and, especially, the tightrope movements between her father and her brother and the jerky mad-scene puppet of Joanna O'Keeffe's lovely Ophelia. Ian Dearden's dramatically appropriate music was largely percussive and pizzicato, but had the occasional lyrical passage and, early on while establishing the mood, a distinct though distant echo of Tudor dance.
It was vaulting-ambition time at the Arts for the Marlowe Society's The Taming of the Shrew: too many disparate styles--commedia, noh, a bit of excessive modernity in a jarring onstage shag for Bianca and Lucentio--fought one another and slowed things down to the point of tedium, so that the better performances, especially Tamer and Tamed, had a struggle to emerge. Dan Stevens (last year's Macbeth) managed the right combination of obnoxiousness and charm as Petruchio, and Kate Doulton (last term's Hermione) the right sense of real grievance as Kate: she possesses the invaluable actorly attribute of knowing how to be still and making it tell. Costumes were good; makeup was silly.
Responses to this piece intended for the Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at L.M.Hopkins@shu.ac.uk.
© 2003-, Lisa Hopkins (Editor, EMLS).