Cambridge Shakespeare, Spring 2004
"Review of Cambridge Shakespeare, Spring 2004". Early Modern
Literary Studies 10.1 (May, 2004) 13.1-4 <URL: http://purl.oclc.org/emls/10-1/revgros.html>.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
Responses to this piece intended for the
Readers' Forum may be sent to the Editor at M.Steggle@shu.ac.uk.
© 2004-, Matthew
Steggle (Editor, EMLS).