Cambridge Shakespeare, Spring 2004

Michael Grosvenor-Myer

Grosvenor-Myer, Michael. "Review of Cambridge Shakespeare, Spring 2004". Early Modern Literary Studies 10.1 (May, 2004) 13.1-4 <URL:>.

  1. Cambridge student theatre runs to a routine. If this is January, that must be the European Theatre Group at the ADC, back from their Christmas vac Shakespeare tour: a tradition obtaining ever since Derek Jacobi and Ian McKellen started them at it 47 years ago. A good production can cheer up a cold January night and get the year off to a flying start - one, that is, like this year's cheerful, tuneful, colourful Much Ado About Nothing : not over-ambitious or freighted down with bright ideas, but a light, frothy goodtime version.

  2. Kate Merriam and Dan Bernard have set the play in 1950s provincial Italy, largely on a café-terrace. Plenty of opportunity here for some nice jive, in which Alexa Lamont's flame-haired Margaret in particular showed herself admirably lightfooted, to the playing of an actual onstage threesome of violin, double-bass and bongos. The masked dancing was thus some of the fleetest-footed and most entertaining I can remember, enhanced by fine reaction comedy from Adam Shindler's lankily dominant Benedick. The violently impulsive Claudio of Tom Secretan, Ben Kerridge's hearty but dignified Leonato and Anna Mackay's personable Hero brought up the requisite pricking behind the eyeballs in the wedding scene, well supported by Rich Scott's Friar, which he contrasted with considerable technique with an insidious Borachio. Dan Sternberg's musical direction and John Persaud's light, adaptable touring set enhanced an experience which sent us out greatly cheered into the cold Fenland night.

  3. And now it's March, and here's the Marlowe Society at the Arts. They moved a bit further west in the Med, their Twelfth Night shenanigans taking place on the Costa del Sol in the 1980s. That, anyhow, is what it said on the pre-publicity. The only actual onstage indications of this intended setting and period were an occasional glimpse, in one of those unnecessarily elaborate trundle-sets which inevitably slow things down to no appreciable purpose, of a bullfight poster on a wall with terracotta coping, and a rara miniskirt for the out-of-mourning Olivia. The Much Ado had felt Italian, but this never felt Spanish, just a few young English people before a corrida bill. All this epitomised one of those productions with the best of intentions and several good moments: a semiconscious Viola carried on and gently set down by the Captain; Feste's sweet singing voice; Malvolio's round of applause at the end of his letter scene. It was nicely spoken and reasonably competently performed throughout: lots of trouble taken (original music, for instance, which, alas, made little impact), but it never quite took fire.

  4. The impact of Benjamin Britten's music is something I have to take a bit on trust, for that matter. It was delightful to have English Touring Opera's A Midsummer Night's Dream turn up at the Arts, but much of the music doesn't seem to me to capture the feel of Shakespearean comedy: the Dream, for all its profundity, has a magical fairy-lightness unrepresented by Britten's often near-atonal weightiness (more appropriate to screw-turned haunted children, raped Roman matrons, or drowned fishermen's apprentices, perhaps?). The programme has a learned note by the conductor on the connection between the stroke-of-midnight climax and the composer's "subtle 12-tone technique" which strikes me frankly as a bit desperate - he himself admits that "At first glance it is not obvious the full importance of the number 12 in the context of this opera" [sic]. Some of the production touches, like viewing Puck as a changeling, his arms bound throughout to symbolise his enslavement to Oberon, seemed to strive a bit too hard for effect also. All but six lines of Peter Pears' adaptation of the text are taken from the original, but inevitably much cut and with lots of lines resited or redistributed among various characters - Egeus and Philostrate disappear entirely. However, as I say, the opportunity to hear it was much to be welcomed, and the exquisite quartet of the lovers' awakening was an inspiring and stimulating highspot.

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© 2004-, Matthew Steggle (Editor, EMLS).